Council Votes to Ban L.A. Sales of Small Handguns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing the deadly violence this month at Santana High School, the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of small, easily concealed handguns and to require purchasers of other firearms to provide a thumbprint.

Despite opposition from gun owners, the council voted 9 to 2 to ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would outlaw the sale in Los Angeles of so-called "pocket rockets," handguns that are 6.75 inches in length or smaller and 4.5 inches in height or smaller.

"These concealable, compact weapons are the weapons of choice for criminals," said Councilman Mike Feuer, who wrote the proposal.

The council also voted 10 to 1 in favor of an ordinance requiring thumbprints from gun purchasers in Los Angeles to help prosecutors make a case against felons and others who attempt to buy weapons even though they are not qualified to do so. Because 12 votes were needed for passage on the first vote, the ordinance comes back for a final action next week, when eight votes will be required.

"It's another step in the fight for gun control in our gun-crazed society," said Councilwoman Rita Walters, who cited the recent fatal shooting at Santana High School in Santee as an example of the proliferation of gun violence.

The two measures, which are supported by Police Chief Bernard Parks, are the latest in a series of gun-control measures in Los Angeles, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, a ban on sale of Saturday night specials and a requirement that anyone purchasing ammunition provide a thumbprint.

Councilmen Hal Bernson and Rudy Svorinich Jr. voted against the ban on ultra-compact guns, with Svorinich calling it "feel-good legislation."

"This is not going to prevent criminals from getting guns," Bernson said.

"It's just going to inhibit law-abiding citizens."

That same argument was made by several gun owners who testified that banning the sale of smaller handguns will hurt small-statured people and the disabled who need such weapons for self-protection.

"This is an unfair law," said Joe Vanpola, who lost fingers on one hand in an industrial accident and said he needs a small gun.

"It's going to affect me and my wife. It won't affect criminals."

The ordinance was supported by Women Against Gun Violence and the Million Mom March.

Arthur Peyser tearfully recounted how his firefighter-daughter was shot to death in 1997: "I lost a daughter to a small handgun that was easily concealed," he told the council.

"If she had seen that, she might still be with us."

Louis Tolley of Handgun Control Inc. and former police commissioner Ann Reiss Lane of Women Against Gun Violence also testified in favor of the requirement that gun purchasers provide a thumbprint.

Background Checks Prevented Sales

Nearly 5,000 prohibited individuals illegally tried to buy firearms in California in 1999 but were prevented by state Department of Justice background checks, officials said.

Those blocked included 17 people convicted of murder.

"If they were trying to buy a gun, they were going to be engaging in another crime," Feuer said.

However, few of those who illegally attempted to buy guns were prosecuted because it is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person applied to buy a gun without some physical evidence such as a thumbprint, according to Carmel Sella, special assistant city attorney.

Without a thumbprint, gun buyers can always claim someone else filed the application to buy a gun using their name, said Feuer, who expects the new law to deter felons and minors from attempting to buy guns in Los Angeles.

Under the ordinance, the thumbprint will be kept by the gun seller and used by police only when a buyer is identified by the state Department of Justice as not qualified to buy a gun.

Bernson voted for the measure even though he complained that there is a large backlog at the LAPD for checking fingerprints.

Svorinich voted against the thumbprint law, saying the system is already effectively blocking felons and others from buying guns and the new rule will only affect law-abiding citizens.

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