Gov. George Deukmejian on Saturday sought to assure Californians that he is still intends to sign legislation that would ban military-style weapons of the type that killed five youngsters and wounded 30 people on a Stockton school play yard.
In his weekly broadcast speech, Deukmejian seemed intent at putting to rest concerns that his abrupt halting of a bill to ban most assault firearms just as the Senate was ready to send it to him April 20 signaled that he had second thoughts about the proposal.
At that time and again in the radio speech, Deukmejian insisted that he merely needed more time to study the bill and recommend amendments that would overcome any objections he found.
Seen as Backtracking
Even so, some supporters and opponents of the proposal by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti and Assemblyman Mike Roos, both Los Angeles Democrats, interpreted the action as backtracking in the governor’s support for outlawing such weapons.
In the five-minute radio talk, Deukmejian did not flatly promise to sign an assault-gun ban. But he did sprinkle it with unconditional phrases such as what the bill “will” do. Three times, he spoke as if the bill already was on the statute books, calling it “the new law.”
Citing the schoolyard massacre on Jan. 17 that provided the emotional impetus for extraordinarily swift movement of the legislation, Deukmejian asserted: “This bill will not bring back to life the innocent children who were slain in Stockton, but it will enable law enforcement to remove these assault weapons from the hands of criminals.”
The attack on the schoolyard occurred at the hands of a demented itinerant named Patrick Purdy, who fired at least 106 bullets from his AK-47 assault rifle into the children at play, then killed himself with a pistol.
Since late March, letters and calls swamping the governor’s mailbag and telephone have at least doubled, to 40,000, said deputy press secretary Thomas G. Beermann. He said most were “strongly opposed” to the bill.
Organizations such as the National Rifle Assn., which opposes the legislation, and teacher and community organizations and Handgun Control Inc., which support it, have urged their members and friends to contact the governor. Beermann said most opposition communications appear to have been organized by the NRA.
The Roberti and Roos bills, which are virtually identical, would make it against the law, effective next Jan. 1, to import, manufacture, sell, advertise for sale, lend and, generally, own about 60 military-style semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns on the proposed ban list. The legislation also would enact stiff penalties for crimes committed with these guns.
The governor said he “strongly” supports these provisions, but repeated his newly announced objections to misdemeanor and/or felony penalties that would be imposed if an otherwise law-abiding owner of an assault weapon failed to register it by Jan. 1, 1991. He said criminal penalties are too severe and asked that failure to register be made a minor infraction subject to “paying a fine and registering that gun.”
Likewise, he has faulted a broadly worded provision that would ban look-alike guns that were not included on the Legislature’s list of weapons to be made illegal. Roos has said that all the makes and models of copycat assault arms are not known.