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Assault Gun Law Flexible on Registration, Lungren Says

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren said Friday that the state law restricting assault weapons does not impose a hard and fast deadline for registering such guns.

Responding to a lawsuit filed last month, Lungren said the precedent-setting law contains several provisions that give him flexibility to continue letting people register assault weapons even though a March 30, 1992, deadline that was established in the measure has long since passed.

The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court by Handgun Control, a national organization co-chaired by Sarah Brady. It challenges Lungren’s registration policy, which was examined in a Times series on assault weapons in August.

The assault gun law requires owners who bought the weapons before the measure passed in June 1989 to register them with the attorney general’s office.

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The suit seeks a court order requiring Lungren to notify gun owners that he had no authority to register assault weapons after the 1992 deadline and that such registrations are void.

The suit also asks the court to force Lungren to advise owners that possession of an unregistered weapon violates the law.

If the court grants Handgun Control’s requests, thousands of gun owners would be in legal limbo. Lungren has registered more than 16,000 assault weapons from nearly 11,000 owners since 1992.

Registration was enacted partly at the request of law enforcement officials, who said it would help trace weapons used in crimes.

Lungren argues that lawmakers did not intend the 1992 date to be a deadline because several other provisions of the law require continued registration of assault weapons. One says gun owners who are arrested for a first offense of illegal possession can become eligible for reduced punishment if they immediately register the gun. Lungren says that shows that the Legislature never intended the deadline to be hard and fast.

But authors of the law--former state Sen. David Roberti and former Assemblyman Michael Roos, who both represented Los Angeles--reject that view and say the registration date was a “drop-dead deadline.”

A hearing on the suit has been scheduled for April 2.


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