Gov. Signs Bill Banning .50-Calibers

Times Staff Writers

Highlighting a difference over gun control with President Bush and the Republican Party, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday signed legislation banning .50-caliber BMG rifles.

The contrast was underscored as the signing was announced the same day the 10-year-old federal ban on assault weapons expired.

Although the two bans targeted different weapons, both concerned the same intense debate over whether they were common-sense limitations on weapons no one needs to have or fruitless symbolic gestures that would not help improve public safety.

The .50-caliber weapons are typically used by game hunters and firing-range enthusiasts, who hold competitions with long-range targets. The rifles cost at least $2,500 and can exceed $7,000, according to the Fifty Caliber Shooters Assn., a Utah-based group.


In May 2003, the Los Angeles City Council banned the sale of the weapons, saying they could penetrate concrete and armor. But a statewide measure sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) was defeated that year after lobbying by the National Rifle Assn. and gun owners.

Koretz wrote this year’s measure, AB 50, which bans the sale of the rifles beginning Jan. 1. Under the bill, people who already own the rifles could register them through April 2006 after paying a $25 fee. Violators could be convicted of a misdemeanor. The bill also increases jail terms to as long as 12 years for those who use the rifles in an assault.

Gun advocates complained that there was no evidence the guns had been used to commit crimes in the state, and that backers of the bill were unfairly trying to use public concern about terrorism to outlaw specialty firearms. They said criminals would be unlikely to choose the guns, which can weigh 28 pounds or more.

The bill’s signing was another legislative example of Schwarzenegger diverging from the GOP not only in Washington, but in Sacramento.

The bill passed the Assembly 45 to 32 and the Senate 21 to 14, with most Republicans voting against it.

“During the recall election, Gov. Schwarzenegger pledged that he would support the ban of .50-caliber rifles,” said Terri Carbaugh, a spokeswoman for the governor. “He remains committed to keeping the public and our law enforcement officers as safe as possible, and to that extent he believes that reasonable gun control measures are necessary.”

A number of bills will further test Schwarzenegger’s ideological harmony with the GOP. At the end of its session last month, the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed dozens of bills along partisan lines, including ones easing the importation of prescription drugs and raising the minimum wage.

“It underscores that he is really staking out his own turf as a conservative Republican on fiscal issues but not on social issues,” said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State.


“It doesn’t satisfy either extreme, but it seems to be embraced by those in the middle, and really that’s been the strength of his popularity to this point.”

Also Monday, Schwarzenegger signed legislation that makes it a misdemeanor for hotels or motels to raise room rates by more than 10% in the month after the state declares an emergency for earthquakes, fires or other such catastrophes. Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) sponsored SB 1363.