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Senate Favors More Time for Assault Guns : Firearms: It sends to the Assembly a measure to give owners of military-style weapons another 90 days to register the arms without facing prosecution.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a rare action, the Senate voted Monday to grant amnesty from prosecution and an extra 90-day registration period to thousands of assault gun owners who forgot, refused or otherwise failed to register their military-style firearms by last Jan. 1.

The proposal, which if approved would suspend for 90 days a section of the state penal code for persons who now are in possession of illegal assault weapons, cleared the Senate overwhelmingly, 30 to 3. It was sent to the Assembly where it faces threatened stiff opposition.

“I know of no instance in the penal code where people were given a state of grace (for failure to comply with state law),” warned Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which reviews gun control legislation. “I don’t see the votes on the committee to get the bill out in its present form.”

One price for approving the amnesty plan, he said, would be adding more semiautomatic firearms to the list of assault weapons whose ownership is prohibited in California without registration. “I’m certainly not favorably inclined toward the bill unless there was some kind of trade-off,” Burton said.

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The Senate bill, carried by Senate Majority Leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), would give owners of assault weapons additional time to register their Uzis, AR-15s and other banned guns without facing criminal charges that range from a minimum $350 fine to a term in state prison.

The California assault gun “control” act of 1989, which sought to ban nearly 60 military-style semiautomatic rifles, shotguns and pistols, allowed owners who legally acquired such weapons to keep them, provided that they were registered by last Jan. 1.

However, only about 8,000 weapons were registered by the deadline. Another 19,000 registrations were postmarked by last Dec. 31 and have been recorded with the state Department of Justice. Department officials and representatives of gun owner organizations estimate that about 300,000 assault weapons are in private ownership in California.

At the urging of Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, Roberti reversed himself last month and agreed to carry a bill offering an additional 90 days for registration and amnesty from prosecution for assault gun owners who complied. However, criminal penalties for using the weapons in a way that violates provisions unrelated to registration would still be in full force.

Lungren contended that gun owners were not aware of the registration requirement even though the landmark 1989 law received widespread publicity. He maintained that the state Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies failed to adequately publicize the law.

“We in the Legislature should bend over backward to make sure that those people who are prosecuted under this law are really people who intend to violate the law rather than people who are tardy,” said Roberti, the Senate author of the law. “We do not want to trap the tardy or unwary.”

But Sen. Don Rogers (R-Bakersfield) and Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita), a former police chief of Los Angeles, contended that 90 days is too short and that more time is needed. Amendments by Rogers to extend the deadline until next Jan. 1 failed.

Sen. Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino), who voted for the 1989 law and encountered heavy opposition from the National Rifle Assn. and other gun owner organizations when he ran for reelection last year, told the Senate that assault gun owners know fully of the registration requirement and deserve no break.

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“Judging from the letters I received during the last campaign, I think every single gun owner in California knew about it,” he said. ". . . The NRA has the best network in the world.”

The NRA, which opposes registration, is “neutral” on Roberti’s bill, said NRA lobbyist Brian Judy. He predicted, however, that without additional inducements many assault gun owners will not “swamp” the Department of Justice to register.

In the Assembly, Burton, a longtime gun-control advocate, said he favors adding to the list of prohibited assault guns a new gun called the Colt “Sporter,” which he maintains is a virtual carbon copy of the banned AR-15. Gun-control advocates have called for banning the “Sporter,” and Lungren is considering filing a lawsuit to ban it.

However, Assemblyman Lloyd G. Connelly (D-Sacramento), also a major force behind gun control in the Legislature, said he considers the 90-day extension a “reasonable accommodation” and would very likely vote for it.

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