Faced with a massive failure to register assault guns by the Dec. 31 deadline, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren on Tuesday asked Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature to give owners of the firearms a second chance.
In one of his first acts, the state’s top law enforcement officer said owners of such high-firepower guns as the Uzi, Mac-10 and AK-47 should be given an unspecified “reasonable” extension of time to register or face criminal penalties.
Lungren, a Republican, said gun owners who otherwise have obeyed the law should get another chance because the state Department of Justice under his predecessor, Democrat John K. Van de Kamp, failed to adequately publicize the registration requirement. But Lungren rejected applying the term “amnesty” to his call for a time extension.
“I hope we can make it very clear that (registration) has to be done this time. It has to be done with finality so there won’t be any excuses later on,” Lungren told reporters.
Officials of the National Rifle Assn. and Handgun Control Inc., fierce antagonists in the 1989 California fight to ban military-style assault arms, expressed cautious support for the proposal.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), co-author of the landmark bill that banned such weapons except for those legally registered, agreed to carry a bill authorizing the extension, a spokesman said.
Lungren’s proposal was announced two days before the second anniversary of the killings of five children and the wounding of 29 others and a teacher in a Stockton schoolyard by a gunman armed with an AK-47. He committed suicide.
The tragedy helped pave the way for enactment of California’s ban on military-style semiautomatic assault weapons, a proposal stiffly opposed by the NRA and supported by law enforcement officials. One provision enabled Californians who had legally acquired assault weapons before June, 1989, to keep them by registering them before Jan. 1, 1991.
No one knows how many assault weapons are privately owned in California, but most estimates put the total at about 300,000.
Only 13,375 assault weapons were registered by the Dec. 31 deadline and another 5,000 applications are being processed, department spokeswoman Kati Corsaut said.
Although the legislation banning assault weapons received heavy attention in newspapers and gun publications for two years, only 5,150 weapons had been registered by late November. One NRA executive suggested that California’s assault gun owners were protesting the law by massive civil disobedience. Other observers blamed it on procrastination.
But an avalanche of applications arrived in December after news reports, which cited the felony penalties for failing to register the weapons.
Lungren also said he will hold “in abeyance” until the Legislature acts on his plan a department policy requiring local police and sheriff’s departments to be given the names and addresses of assault gun owners who submitted registration documents after the deadline.