As President Clinton and gun control advocates continued to lobby Tuesday for about a dozen votes needed to pass an assault weapons ban, the California House delegation remained deeply split over the issue along partisan lines.
All but two of 30 California Democrats support restricting the availability of semiautomatic, military-style rifles, while 19 of the state’s 22 Republicans are against the measure, according to the latest White House and congressional tallies. The vote is expected Thursday.
Democrat Gary A. Condit of Ceres and first-term Republicans Steve Horn of Long Beach and Howard P. (Buck) McKeon of Santa Clarita are still undecided. Condit and McKeon are leaning against the ban on future possession, sale or manufacture of 19 semiautomatic weapons and their look-alikes.
A senior White House official said late Tuesday that the vote was breaking in favor of the ban and that some California members were moving in that direction.
On Tuesday, San Diego-area Republicans Duncan Hunter and Randy Cunningham teamed up with actor Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Assn. against the legislation.
Hunter, who said the average murderer is released after serving less than 5 1/2 years in prison, said: “The real assault weapons are the deadly criminals.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), author of a nearly identical bill that passed the Senate last year, expressed surprise that 20 California House members would oppose cutting off the supply of military-style weapons that have produced carnage across the state, from Stockton to San Ysidro.
“It’s hard for me to understand,” Feinstein said in an interview. “Maybe conservatives feel they have to be for assault weapons. I think they really don’t understand” the legislation.
Feinstein said she has attempted to contact many of the California Republicans in opposition. “I’ve tried,” she said with a shrug. “They’re not taking my calls.”
The ban’s supporters, Feinstein said, had hoped some of the conservative California Republicans opposed to the ban would follow the lead of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a Judiciary subcommittee ranking member who changed his mind after being lobbied by Feinstein and others. But none of the 19 appeared willing to budge.
One California Republican, however, is prepared to break party ranks and support the ban--Rep. Michael Huffington of Santa Barbara, who is running for Feinstein’s Senate seat.
“It’s a small step,” Huffington said of the ban. “But it will not make a huge difference.”
The only Democrat who strongly opposes the ban is Rep. Matthew G. Martinez of Monterey Park. He said the legislation would ship gun manufacturing jobs overseas while not stopping criminals from obtaining the weapons.
“Some of us have a responsibility to educate the public and make bills extensive enough and conclusive enough to do the job, not just window dressing to make people feel like we did something,” Martinez said.
But Martinez left open the possibility of changing sides at the last minute.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said undecided legislators now hold the balance of power in the battle.
Among the undecided members within the California delegation, proponents are hoping that Condit will join his two fellow Central Valley Democrats--Reps. Calvin Dooley of Visalia and Rick Lehman of North Fork--in supporting the ban. But McKeon appears likely to vote no.
“I’m probably going to vote against it,” said McKeon, a longtime gun owner. “It just stops future production. There’s so many weapons out there right now.”
Supporters said they were confident of getting Horn’s vote, partly because he has backed a wide range of Clinton policies during his first term.
Clinton, who has made the ban a top priority, is expected to contact as many undecided legislators as possible to get the necessary votes, Administration officials said.
“What the President is trying to do is alert these people to what their constituents want,” said Rahm Emmanuel, who is heading the White House lobbying effort. “Hopefully, the Congress will bend to the will of public opinion on this one.”
A Times national poll in December found that Feinstein’s weapons ban was favored 71% to 24%.
There have been a number of incidents in California in recent years that have called attention to the carnage that military-style semiautomatic weapons can cause. Last year, eight people were killed and six wounded in a San Francisco high-rise. Five children were killed and 29 injured in 1989 in a Stockton schoolyard. In 1984, 21 were killed and 19 wounded in a San Ysidro McDonald’s.
Family members of the slain victims have been lobbying Congress for months.
Last week, 10 months after the worst mass murder in San Francisco history, Stephen Sposato carried his grief to Washington with the hope of persuading Congress to halt the legal sale of rapid-fire weapons such as the IntraTEC DC-9 that was used to murder his wife, Jody.
Sposato, his 20-month-old daughter and his father-in-law sat down in the Oval Office to share their tragic story with Clinton. He also met with Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and plotted legislative strategy with Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and Feinstein.
But Sposato, a registered Republican from the Northern California town of Lafayette, could not get an audience with his local congressman.
Sposato and Marilyn Merrill, a mother of two whose husband, Michael, was slain in the July 1 massacre at a San Francisco law firm, said their representative, Bill Baker (R-Danville), has refused repeated requests to discuss the issue.
Baker declined to be interviewed by The Times. He issued a press release Tuesday that said he will vote against the ban.
“Banning guns will affect law-abiding citizens, not criminals,” Baker said in the statement. “This gun ban is about making headlines, not criminal control.”
Times staff writers William J. Eaton, Alan C. Miller and Ronald Brownstein contributed to this story.
How State’s House Members Line Up
The House is expected to vote Thursday on legislation to ban the sale or manufacture of 19 semi-automatic weapons and their look-alikes. It does not affect assault weapons currently in circulation. A similiar bill passed in the Senate last November. Here is a look at how California’s House members are expected to vote:
UNDECIDED ON THE BAN
Represents Phone Condit, Gary A. D-Ceres (209) 383-4455 Horn, Steve R-Long Beach (310) 425-1336 McKeon, Howard P. (Buck) R-Santa Clarita (805) 254-2111 SUPPORTING THE BAN Republicans Huffington, Michael Santa Barbara (805) 682-6600 Democrats Becerra, Xavier Los Angeles (213) 550-8962 Beilenson, Anthony C. Woodland Hills (818) 999-1990 Berman, Howard L. Panorama City (818) 891-0543 Brown, George E. Jr. Colton (909) 825-2472 Dellums, Ronald V. Oakland (510)-763-0370 Dixon, Julian C. Los Angeles (213) 678-5424 Dooley, Calvin Visalia (800) 464-4294 Edwards, Don San Jose (408) 247-1711 Eshoo, Anna G. Atherton (415) 323-2984 Farr, Sam Carmel (408) 649-3555 Fazio, Vic West Sacramento (916) 666-5521 Filner, Bob San Diego (619) 422-5963 Hamburg, Dan Ukiah (707) 462-1716 Harman, Jane Marina del Rey (310) 787-0767 Lantos, Tom Burlingame (415) 342-0300 Lehman, Richard H. North Fork (209) 248-0800 Matsui, Robert T. Sacramento (916) 551-2846 Miller, George Martinez (510) 602-1880 Mineta, Norman Y. San Jose (408) 984-6045 Pelosi, Nancy San Francisco (415) 556-4862 Roybal-Allard, Lucille Los Angeles (213) 628-9230 Schenk, Lynn San Diego (619) 291-1430 Stark, Pete Hayward (510) 247-1388 Torres, Esteban E. Pico Rivera (310 695-0702 Tucker, Walter R. III Compton (310) 884-9989 Waters, Maxine Los Angeles (213) 757-8900 Waxman, Henry A. Los Angeles (213) 651-1040 Woolsey, Lynn Petaluma (707) 795-1462 OPPOSED TO THE BAN Democrats Martinez, Matthew G. Monterey Park (818) 458-4524 Republicans Baker, Bill Danville (510) 932-8899 Calvert, Ken, Riverside (909) 784-4300 Cox, Christopher Newport Beach (714) 756-2244 Cunningham, Randy (Duke) San Diego (619) 737-8438 Doolittle, John T. Rocklin (916) 786-5560 Dornan, Robert K. Garden Grove (714) 971-9292 Dreier, David San Dimas (818) 339-9078 Gallegly, Elton Simi Valley (805) 485-2300 Herger, Wally Rio Oso (916) 893-8363 Hunter, Duncan El Cajon (619) 353-5420 Kim, Jay C. Diamond Bar (909) 988-1055 Lewis, Jerry Redlands (909) 862-6030 McCandless, Al La Quinta (619) 340-2900 Moorhead, Carlos J. Glendale (818) 247-8445 Packard, Ron Oceanside (619) 631-1364 Pombo, Richard W. Tracy (209) 951-3091 Rohrabacher, Dana Huntington Beach (714) 847-2433 Royce, Ed Fullerton (714) 992-8081 Thomas, Bill Bakersfield (209) 627-6549
Researched by D’JAMILA SALEM and GLENN F. BUNTING / Los Angeles Times