Assembly Dispute Holds Up OK of Assault Weapons Bill
Want to find out what really is holding up enactment of a law to ban military-style assault weapons from California’s streets?
(Send the kids out of the room.)
The legislation that would impose the restrictions is stalled in the state Assembly, thanks to expletive-peppered explanations that boil down to: It’s payback time.
That’s a thoroughly cleaned-up version of how Assemblyman Dick Floyd (D-Wilmington) on Thursday explained why, with the legislation needing one vote for final passage, he will continue refusing to vote for it. None of the rationales has anything to do with reining in the deadly guns.
Floyd and other key players--including Inglewood’s Edward Vincent--who are in the dispute over the controversial measure provided a rare glimpse this week into the motives and passions that drive much of state lawmaking. Floyd said the gun bill’s author, Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda), dealt him a low blow this week, and now it is his turn to hit back.
Fellow Democrat Vincent, meanwhile, is taking heat for his actions both in the capital and in his home district.
Perata also has a role in the current stalemate: On Tuesday, he denied one of Floyd’s choice bills consideration by a committee that Perata heads. That was because Floyd had not voted for the assault gun legislation when it missed by a single Assembly vote Monday, Perata conceded. It was due to come back for a vote Thursday but has now been postponed indefinitely.
“We play these . . . games around here,” Perata said, using his own set of expletives.
Floyd is one of two Democrats who refused to vote on the gun bill this year but did vote for it last year.
So why did Floyd, who says he rarely votes on gun control proposals, vote for the Perata bill in the first place? Must have been an “electronic glitch” in the equipment that records Assembly votes, he said.
Until Monday, Vincent was considered Perata’s best chance for that clincher vote in the Assembly.
Vincent said that the measure has been changed substantially since he voted for it last year and he needs a “time out” to fully understand all the new features.
Perata and other Democratic Assembly leaders delivered a personal plea for Vincent’s vote in Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa’s private office Monday, but it had no impact, Vincent said. “They didn’t elect me. My constituents did.”
But all has not been well for Vincent in his home precincts since his abstention Monday.
Vincent has violated “the people’s trust that he will help promote safety in our community,” said a statement from Inglewood’s Coalition for Drug and Violence Prevention.
Unless Vincent comes around to support the gun bill, said Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope in Inglewood, he should get accustomed to Sacramento “because he will not be welcome back in Southern California.”
Susan Shaw, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, wrote to Vincent on Wednesday: “Ninety-three of your constituents died by gun in 1997--one a 7-year-old killed by an assault weapon. . . . We want you to know who died in your district” because of gun violence.
Perata’s bill--struggling through a second legislative year--seeks a broad, generic ban on military-style assault weapons to replace the weaker restrictions enacted a decade ago after a gunman armed with an assault weapon shot up a Stockton schoolyard, killing five children.
A state appeals court last month found major components of the old law unacceptable, although the restrictions remain in effect.
Even if it eventually gets passed, the Perata bill faces obstacles in Gov. Pete Wilson’s office. Generally, Wilson favors banning assault weapons, but he wants a law that he considers less likely to jeopardize owners of legitimate sporting guns.
The Perata measure maps out strict prohibitions on weapons possessing features that replicate military semiautomatic assault guns. Automatic weapons that spray bullets with a single pull of the trigger are already banned.
A semiautomatic gun such as one fitted with big clips containing many bullets would be prohibited for possession or sale in California.
Among other objections, Wilson officials argue that simply equipping a gun with a large magazine should not make it illegal. Wilson wants a bill that more closely resembles a less restrictive federal ban on the import and manufacture of assault guns.
Those are differences of substance over what would be the right kind of law for California. In the Assembly, substance is hardly the issue in most of the behind-the-scenes scrapping.
Although Vincent, for example, said he has concerns about the content of the Perata bill, other lawmakers close to the dispute report that Vincent has a personal gripe with internal Assembly workings, and that is what influenced his decision not to vote on the gun bill Monday.
Perata said he knows what that problem is--although he’s not saying--and hopes to resolve it and secure Vincent’s vote next time around. Unlike Floyd, Perata said, Vincent is a longtime friend.
The Assembly’s ideological divide over Perata’s bill falls mainly along partisan lines, although supporters include two Republicans--Steven T. Kuykendall of Rancho Palos Verdes and Jim Cunneen of San Jose.
Among Democrats, Joe Baca of San Bernardino and Rod Wright of Los Angeles broke ranks on Monday and, since both are considered unshakable, are expected to vote against the Perata bill in the future.
Republican objections to the measure, although relatively substantive, have an orchestrated quality that echoes the positions of the National Rifle Assn.
NRA lobbyist Stephen Helsley said in a recent interview that the Perata bill, if enacted, is doomed to the same fate as the present California law because it fails, by NRA standards, to adequately define an assault firearm.
Helsley and Assemblyman Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside) ridiculed the prohibition in the Perata bill against a “conspicuously protruding” handgrip as being vague and serving no purpose.
Perata aides, however, said protruding handgrips help hold a gun steady when it’s being fired in rapid succession.