Both Sides of Assault Weapon Issue Had McKeon in Their Sights


BUCK ON THE FENCE: Conservative U.S. Rep. Howard P.(Buck) McKeon(R-Santa Clarita) has owned guns since he was 16 years old. He voted against the Brady Bill to create a national five-day waiting period for handgun purchases.

Still, McKeon wavered just enough over the hotly debated measure to outlaw the purchase of 19 assault weapons to be considered a crucial undecided vote. No other San Fernando Valley-area representative was considered on the fence.

McKeon was lobbied by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the author of the bill to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of such rapid-fire weapons as the Uzi and the Street Sweeper.

"What we need to do is attack the criminal," said McKeon, who ultimately voted against the measure. "If someone uses a gun in a crime, they should be hit hard and fast with a severe penalty."

He said criminals will "get guns one way or another" and that banning the sale of assault weapons "will be more restrictive on honest, law-abiding gun owners." Assault weapons already in private ownership would be exempted.

McKeon cited other reasons: He owns two guns that use ammunition clips that carry more than 10 rounds, which puts them among those weapons that would be barred; as a Mormon, he recalled that early Mormons in Missouri had to give up their firearms and were then chased from the state by gun-toting settlers; and he said that those who currently own the weapons that would be banned would "feel like now they're doing something against the law."

McKeon said that his $5,450 in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Assn. had nothing to do with his vote. Whichever way he went, he said, "there's going to be some people unhappy" but he acknowledged that gun owners are most likely to be single-issue voters.

Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), who got $1,000 from the NRA in 1992, also opposed the ban. Democratic Reps. Anthony C. Beilenson of Woodland Hills, Howard L. Berman of Panorama City and Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles voted for it.

The ban passed, 216-214.


MORE HEAT OVER FIREARMS: A staple of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn.'s annual trip to Washington is a Capitol Hill breakfast or lunch with Southern California lawmakers. The sessions are usually low-key and congenial. Not so this year.

Recently, the business and civic activists saw sparks fly between Moorhead and Beilenson. The issue was gun control.

Moorhead derided the five-day waiting period, named after James Brady, the press secretary to former President Ronald Reagan who was critically wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt. Brady and his wife, Sarah, spearheaded the successful fight to pass the bill.

Moorhead called the measure "a turf war between the NRA and the Brady bunch" and said, "The Brady Bill will do nothing to stop crime." The veteran lawmaker said he doesn't "believe even in shooting rabbits" but maintained that most criminals buy their weapons on the black market, not from licensed dealers.

Referring to those who commit crimes with firearms, Moorhead said: "If they didn't have guns, they'd do it with knives," to which one VICA member muttered: "Did you ever hear of a drive-by knifing?"

This was more than Beilenson could stand. "We do things in incremental, modest ways," he said. He added that he and other Brady Bill supporters had sided with law-enforcement officials because "they are being outgunned by criminals."

Under rhetorical fire, Moorhead said Congress is likely to prohibit minors from owning guns.

"Big deal," Beilenson shot back.


MISSING IN ACTION: Sang Korman, the Newbury Park Republican who is running for Congress for the fourth time, is the invisible candidate in the 24th District GOP primary.

Korman, a Korean-American immigrant who plowed more than $750,000 of his own money into three previous unsuccessful primary races and campaigned vigorously, does not appear to be doing anything this time. No appearances, no mailers, no news releases, no fund-raising.

And the normally talkative businessman has failed to return reporters' calls for weeks.

"Sang hasn't been doing anything," said Bob Lavoie, who ran Korman's first two campaigns and remains a friend. "He's consulting and doing a lot of traveling."

Lavoie said he did not know why Korman had filed to run again. A campaign aide for one of his opponents speculated that Korman was trying to raise money to repay funds he had loaned his campaign. (Lavoie called that interpretation incorrect.)

Korman has defied political logic before. This time, at least, the price doesn't seem to be so high.


NOT-SO-UNITED WE STAND: An active group of Ross Perot supporters from Thousand Oaks apparently oversold its standing when its members announced their endorsement of an independent candidate for the 24th Congressional District, which includes part of the Valley.

It turns out that the members of the small group were acting on their own when they decided to seek to place newcomer Rhett Wooden, a Thousand Oaks cameraman and grip, on the ballot. Contrary to a report in this column, the individuals were not acting on behalf of, or in conjunction with, the Conejo Valley chapter of United We Stand, America.

In fact, the coterie that sought an independent candidate to oppose Beilenson was rebuffed by the chapter when it requested formal support for Wooden. Support is divided primarily among various Republican candidates, said chapter leaders.

The small band of Wooden backers is continuing to pursue its goal as individuals.

Among those most active in the independent candidate effort was Verne Balman, who was chairman of the 24th District for United We Stand. He has since resigned his post.

"Verne and his group took it upon themselves to run a candidate, which is completely against the bylaws of United We Stand," said Edmund Barnes, a Newbury Park retiree who became chairman of the Conejo Valley chapter last month. "We can't endorse any candidate.

"Most of the members of the Conejo Valley chapter did not want to run an independent candidate. And that is where the friction came in."

Balman could not be reached. But Sue Gerds, another mover behind the independent candidacy, maintained that Balman's resignation had nothing to do with this issue. She said she also stepped down as Conejo Valley membership chair because she was disillusioned by the Perot organization's top-down leadership style from its Dallas headquarters.

"It's just not what we were sold, that it would be as grass-roots," Gerds said. "The national (United We Stand, America) definition of grass roots is 'out of sight and in the dark.' The only time grass roots is dusted off is when they need to dig a grave."

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