Assault Gun Ban Wins Final Vote : Deukmejian’s Promised Approval Would Make It 1st Such U.S. Law
The Legislature beat down the gun lobby Thursday and sent to Gov. George Deukmejian for his promised signature a landmark bill making California the first state to ban military-style assault weapons.
Jubilant supporters, who broke out in applause when Assembly approval of the heavily lobbied measure was announced, declared that the action “sends a message” to President Bush, Congress and other state legislatures that concern for public safety outweighs the demand to sell and own semiautomatic combat arms.
A spokesman for Deukmejian said the Republican governor intends to sign the bill next week under a compromise reached with the Democratic authors of the legislation, Assemblyman Mike Roos and Senate leader David A. Roberti, both of Los Angeles.
In California, attempts to impose new controls on gun ownership are always uphill battles. The last time the Legislature enacted a major ban on firearms occurred in 1934 when machine guns, a favorite of mobsters, were put off limits.
The assault gun proposal was first approved by the Senate on Thursday by an almost routine 27-11 bipartisan vote. Later, the Assembly approved it 41-35, the precise simple majority required in the 80-member chamber.
At one point during the televised Assembly debate, an opponent of the bill, Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), demonstrated how a legal semiautomatic rifle can be quickly made to look like an assault weapon.
“Did you get permission to carry that onto the floor?” cried out Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco), a supporter of the ban. “Is it loaded?” Mountjoy assured him that the gun was unloaded and that he had received permission to bring it into the chamber.
Basically, the bill provides that effective next Jan. 1 it will be against the law to sell, give, lend, import, distribute or manufacture about 60 types of semiautomatic rifles, shotguns and pistols declared by brand name to be “assault weapons.” The bill also sets up a system to register such guns if they have been legally acquired by this June 1.
The final vote actually occurred on a conference committee report that contained compromises agreed to by the lawmakers to win Deukmejian’s signature. Except for the compromise provisions that dealt with penalties for possession of unregistered guns legally obtained before June 1, the bill by Roos was identical to an earlier measure by Roberti that had been sent to the governor.
The bill was strongly supported by top law enforcement officials, teachers, physicians and church-based community organizations in Los Angeles County where terrorized neighborhoods have become shooting galleries for drug trafficking street gangs armed with such assault weapons as Uzis and AK-47s.
Bitterly opposed to the proposal were gun-owner groups, including the usually politically influential National Rifle Assn., which waged an all-out lobbying campaign to kill the legislation. Gun owners argued that it would do nothing to stop criminals but would disarm law-abiding citizens of one type of gun.
Roberti declared that final legislative approval of the bill demonstrated that “the National Rifle Assn. can be beaten and the special interests don’t always win every year . . . . The fact that the Legislature responded to the concerns of the public and defeated the NRA, that is something we are very, very pleased about.”
But Richard E. Gardiner, the NRA’s Washington-based director of lobbying in state legislatures, insisted that final approval of the bill was “based on a lot of untruths” and asserted that the compromise changes sought by Deukmejian “are not in this bill.”
“It certainly sends a message very clearly that the state of California is not interested in doing anything about crime,” he charged. “It’s a clear message that the government of California so detests its own citizens that it wants to make criminals out of them.”
Gardiner also forecast that the California action, rather than encouraging Bush and Congress to enact a national ban on assault rifles, would have “no effect” on the White House or Capitol Hill. He said the NRA, as expected, intends to file a lawsuit against the California ban next year when the bill becomes law.
From the other side, state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, a strong supporter of the bill and a Democratic contender for governor next year, asserted that “the focus now shifts from Sacramento to Washington.” He praised Republican President Bush for proposing a ban on some imported assault weapons, but said “he needs to do much more. The time for half-measures is past. I call for a national ban on assault weapons and urge the Congress and President to act as responsibly as our Legislature and our governor have.”
Efforts to ban assault weapons in California reach back at least five years and previously have always failed, largely at the hands of the NRA, whose members total about 270,000 in the state and are considered a political bloc not to trifle with.
While the Roberti-Roos legislation was announced in December, it was the Jan. 17 murders of five Southeast Asian refugee children in a Stockton schoolyard that provided the emotional ingredient required to advance the bill and gain the support of Deukmejian, long an opponent of new controls on guns.
The children were cut down by Patrick Duffy, a demented drifter clad in combat fatigues, who fired 105 shots from a Chinese-made AK-47 across the playground, reloading at least once. He then shot and killed himself. Twenty-nine other children and a teacher were wounded in the attack that focused national attention on military-style assault guns.
Despite the backing of the GOP governor for the Roos-Roberti legislation, all but two Assembly Republicans--Charles Quackenbush of Saratoga and William Filante of Greenbrae--either voted against the bill or did not vote at all Thursday.
Roos, who during floor debate commended Deukmejian for his “courageous” stance, urged Republicans to vote aye and “change the culture of violence as it badly affects many of our cities up and down the state.” Roos told them that the “Bush Administration has made this safe to do.”
But Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) countered that misdemeanor and felony penalties in the bill are “certain to make criminals out of thousands and, more than likely, tens of thousands, of law-abiding, decent Californians” without touching criminal gun users.
Roos claimed, however, that such arguments constituted the “last gasp of the NRA.”
In the Senate, Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), former chief of police in Los Angeles, warned that the assault gun ban would swiftly lead to future controls against other guns--an overriding fear of many California gun owners.
“This will be a sad day for liberty in California,” Davis declared. “We will be the first state in the nation to declare war on semi-automatic weapons. This (bill) is a result of sentiment, emotion and panic-thinking. It’s not going to make anyone safe. It’s just a placebo.”
In Washington, Sarah Brady, chairwoman of Handgun Control Inc., said actions such as California’s send a “strong signal to Congress that Americans want to take back our streets.” She urged Bush and Congress to “follow California’s lead.”
Unlike previous California attempts to outlaw assault weapons, the latest effort featured a new wrinkle in packaging.
In earlier campaigns, Handgun Control Inc., chief adversary of the NRA, took the leading, up-front role in lobbying. Some law enforcement organizations, while mostly gingerly supporting Handgun Control, did not band together in a united front.
For many legislators, representatives of Handgun Control were synonymous with gun confiscators knocking on doors in the middle of the night demanding that weapons be surrendered.
This time around, law enforcement took the leading role in public and successfully cast the issue as a public safety matter. Handgun Control, meantime, provided major financial support for indirect lobbying of the Legislature through paid advertising and helped organize citizen efforts for the bill.
Times staff writer Jerry Gillam contributed to this story.
GUN LAW AT A GLANCE
Major provisions of the “Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989,” which will become law Jan. 1, 1990, include these:
The law establishes a new classification of firearms known as “assault weapons.” It declares that an assault weapon has “such a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.”
It will be punishable for a term of from four to eight years in state prison for civilians to import, manufacture, distribute, sell, give or lend any assault weapon. Possession, except for people with a special permit, will be punishable either as a misdemeanor with a jail sentence or as a felony with a prison term.
It will be a misdemeanor to advertise the sale of assault weapons.
REGISTRATION OF ASSAULT WEAPONS
Anyone who legally possesses such a firearm as of this June 1 has 18 months or until Jan. 1, 1991, to register it with the state Department of Justice. The fee will be a maximum $20. (A person seeking to buy an assault weapon after June 1 first must get a difficult-to-obtain permit from the department by next Jan. 1.)
Possession generally is restricted to the gun owner’s home, business or any private property where permission is granted. Other legal sites include approved target ranges, licensed shooting clubs and certain exhibitions. Transporting an assault weapon in a locked container to and from such places will be legal.
If the owner of a legally acquired assault gun did not register it, he or she will be subject to a fine of $350 to $500 for the first violation. For the owner of an illegally obtained weapon, simple possession of the outlawed gun will be a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of a judge.
No one under 18 or anyone convicted of a felony or who has been adjudged to be mentally ill and dangerous can possess or register an assault gun.
A person who inherits such a gun either must, within 90 days, obtain a permit, make it permanently inoperable or sell it to a licensed gun dealer. Newcomers to California with legally obtained assault weapons must do the same. Gun dealers will be authorized to possess weapons and transport them between dealers in California and to sell them outside the state.
The new law also seeks to outlaw copies of the banned assault weapons. Dozens, and perhaps scores, of such guns exist, although supporters of the legislation maintained that the copy-cat firearms were too numerous to identify in the bill and that their model numbers changed frequently. For these current facsimiles and look-alikes that might be manufactured in the future, the law empowers the attorney general to challenge such firearms in the Superior Court of major urban counties, such as Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and San Francisco. If the judge is persuaded that the facsimile is actually an assault weapon, the jurist can outlaw it.
PENALTIES FOR ASSAULT GUN USE
It will be a felony, punishable by up to 12 years in prison, to attack another person with an assault weapon.
A person armed with an assault weapon who commits or attempts to commit a felony will be subject to an additional five years in prison beyond the sentence imposed for the basic crime. An unarmed person participating in a felony or attempted felony in which an assault arm is used by an accomplice will be subject to an extra three-year sentence.
LIST OF BANNED FIREARMS
Here is a list of semiautomatic firearms that will be banned by manufacturer and model under the assault weapons legislation sent to Gov. George Deukmejian.
All Avtomat Kalashnikov assault arms (AK-47), regardless of manufacturer
Armalite AR-180 carbine
Beretta AR-70 (SC-70)
Bushmaster assault rifle
Calico M-900 assault carbine
Colt AR-15 series and CAR-15 series
Daewoo K-1, K-2 (Known also as Max 1 and Max 2)
Fabrique Nationale FN/FAL, FN/LAR and FNC
Heckler & Koch HK-91, H-93, HK-94 and PSG-1
Mandall TAC-1 carbine
MAC 10 and MAC 11
Plainfield Machine Co. carbine
PJK M-68 carbine
SKS with detachable magazine
SIG AMT, its 500 series and SIG PE-57
Springfield Armory BM-59 and SAR-48
Sterling MK-6 and SAR
Uzi carbine and Galil
Valmet M62, M71S and M78
Weaver Arms Nighthawk
Encom MP-9 and MP-45
MAC 10 and MAC 11
Mitchell Arms Spectre Auto
Franchi SPAS-12 and LAW-12
Gilbert Equipment Co. Striker 12 and SWD Street Sweeper
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.