The firefight between opposing gun camps all last week in the Assembly was a reminder of what this issue is about: It’s about human drama and tragedy. It’s about both sides’ obsessions and fears. And it’s about political peril.
In this battle, it also was about a saturation-fire strategy by gun-control advocates that overwhelmed the pro-gun lobby.
Ultimately, a volley of Assembly Democratic bills was sent to the Senate to--among other things--ban more assault rifles, ban unsafe junk handguns, require trigger locks to be sold with firearms and require new Californians to register their handguns.
For drama, it doesn’t get much more compelling than a father telling of his grown son being shot dead by a party host who didn’t think the shotgun was loaded. Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Altadena) told the gripping story after hearing one tired bromide too many about “criminals” and “honest, law-abiding” citizens.
“Friends, [the killer] was a law-abiding person,” Scott told a hushed Assembly chamber. “He now is a criminal because he was tried for involuntary manslaughter and found guilty. He now has a five-year probated sentence. My son got a death sentence. And my wife and I got a life sentence. . . .
“I’m not trying to confiscate your guns. [But] I don’t think it’s a good thing to have the proliferation of guns in our society. My life has been painfully touched in the deepest way possible as a result of guns.”
Scott, former president of Pasadena City College, was pushing a bill targeted at drive-by shooters. His measure makes it illegal for an auto passenger--not just the driver--to conceal a loaded firearm; also, the crime could be prosecuted as a felony. The bill passed at 2:20 a.m. Friday with no votes to spare, 41-31.
Both sides have tragic stories. Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro (R-Paso Robles) told about his teenage sister being taken to a remote riverbank and executed by a drug dealer. “I never blamed the handgun, I blamed the murderer,” he said. The Assembly, on a 68-2 vote, passed his bill to stiffen penalties for criminal use of firearms.
That’s the kind of gun bill Republicans like. Bordonaro and most of his GOP colleagues refuse to regulate the guns of “law-abiders.” That impinges on freedom, they warn, and is another step toward confiscation. They discount the death data; more Californians die from gunfire than auto accidents.
In the Assembly, however, there are a handful of Republicans who join an equal number of Democrats in selectively voting for some gun bills and against others. These moderates usually represent competitive districts that can go either way on election day. They’re the targets of high-pressure lobbying and are the swing voters on the floor.
One is Assemblyman Steven Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes), who says of the pro-gun lobby: “They’re losing some of their effectiveness, always saying ‘No.’ ” And of his fellow Republicans, he adds: “This lock-step mentality is just asinine.”
Kuykendall voted for a bill by Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles) to ban the manufacture and sale of junk Saturday night specials that don’t even meet the safety standards for imported guns. It passed, 41-34. But he voted against a measure by Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) that would have allowed local governments to ban handguns. It failed, with 44 votes against and 26 in favor.
The most pro-gun Democrat is Assemblyman Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles), who represents South-Central. He has his own dramatic story: As a teenager pumping gas at his father’s service station, Wright once used a revolver to fend off an armed robber. The thug dropped his gun and fled. “He’d have shot me,” the assemblyman says. “It’s not that I like guns; I like living.
“But I’m a long way from being a gun nut.” Indeed, Wright cast the 41st and deciding vote for Scott’s bill aimed at drive-by shooters.
Some lawmakers just duck gun-control bills. One is veteran Assemblyman Dick Floyd (D-Wilmington). “It’s the easiest way to get through life,” he says.
But on Thursday night, Floyd cast two pivotal votes--for bills by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) requiring newcomers to register their handguns (passed 41-33), and by Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda) expanding the assault weapons ban (41-29).
The strategy of gun control advocates was to send up such a barrage of bills--10--that the gun lobby could not shoot them all down and moderates could pick and choose, playing both sides. Villaraigosa’s badly beaten local control bill was a “lightning rod” to draw opposition away from other measures, such as Caldera’s junk handgun ban.
In the end, however, what mattered most was that Democrats control the Assembly.