In 1989 California became the first state to enact a sweeping ban on more than 60 specified military-style assault weapons. After a decade of escalating gun violence in which two grisly massacres were carried out with semiautomatic rifles--21 people were gunned down at a San Ysidro McDonald's in 1984 and a Stockton elementary school shooting left five children dead and 30 others wounded in 1989--the measure represented symbolic and courageous progress toward sensible gun laws.
Now, yet another gruesome crime--this time nine deaths, including his own, were caused at a San Francisco law firm by another crazed gunman wielding a semiautomatic pistol--points up the need for the Legislature to take further steps toward rationality by doing what should have done in 1989: passing a law banning the import, manufacture, sale and possession of all so-called assault weapons.
Originally intended--and initially drafted--as a blanket ban on all military-style semiautomatic pistols, shotguns and rifles, the Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 sought to ban firearms that have readily identifiable features such as pistol grips, folding stocks and a high-volume detachable ammunition magazines.
Instead, the Legislature acquiesced to the relentless bullying tactics of the gun lobby by adopting a model-by-model ban. And, though a weaker law in this case was preferable to none at all, that allowed firearms manufacturers to pull a bait-and-switch routine by simply making minor modifications to their weapons or introducing new models.
The Intratec TEC-DC-9, used by Gian Luigi Ferri in the San Francisco shootings, is virtually identical to the TEC-9, which is banned under state law as an assault weapon. And although Ferri legally purchased his weapons in Nevada, it's sad to say he could also have purchased the TEC-DC-9 legally in California gun stores.
It is curious indeed that Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren has failed to add any weapon to the list since he was elected in 1990. A spokesman for Lungren said it was conceivable that "it (the DC-TEC-9) could be added at some point as a copycat of the banned weapon, the TEC-9." That statement doesn't wash. His office ought to make a better effort, not only with tougher enforcement but by aggressively seeking to expand the existing law.
For its part, the Legislature, has an obligation to ensure public safety. It should move ahead and adopt a stronger bill that would ban this class of firearms, which have no place in a civilized society and cannot rationally be defined as sportsmen's firearms. Semiautomatic weapons are intended only to kill human beings with deadly efficiency.