Bills target criminals’ use of guns

Times Staff Writer

Moving to address a plague of gun violence in California, four state legislators announced a package of bills Thursday aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and helping the police solve crimes when guns are used.

The bills were endorsed Thursday by Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, Sheriff Lee Baca and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The mayor said suspected gang members were responsible for 70% of the shootings last year in his city, and he considered the legislation to be a key part of a new attack on gangs that he launched last week.


“When passed, these bills will give us the legal ammunition to go after the gangs with everything we’ve got,” Villaraigosa said. “If we stop guns from illegally falling into the hands of gangs, we can stop the violence and stop the killings.”

However, advocates for gun-owner rights said the proposed laws would create an additional bureaucracy that would hurt law-abiding firearms users.

The measures include a bill by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) to require that all semiautomatic firearms sold starting in 2010 include micro-stamping mechanisms that automatically place the serial number of the gun on the casings of bullets fired by the weapon.

Of the 2,400 homicides last year in California, 60% were committed using handguns, Feuer noted. He said that 45% of all gun murders in the state are unsolved, even though killers often leave behind casings.

“I think all of us are tired of drive-by shooters all too frequently escaping justice,” Feuer said.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, a Sacramento-based lobbying group, said he did not believe the law would work.


“We are adamantly opposed to that because there would be a break in the chain of evidence so it could not be used in court,” Paredes said. “If I were a gangbanger, I would go to a shooting range and pick up a bunch of casings and leave them at the scenes of crimes.”

Another bill, by Assemblyman Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), would require sellers of ammunition to register with the state Department of Justice, and purchasers would have to show identification and sign a form.

“It’s much more difficult to buy a can of spray paint than ammunition,” De Leon said, noting that the paint -- a favorite tool of graffiti vandals -- is kept behind counters. “That’s ridiculous.”

Paredes said that law also would be a waste because police are too busy to collect sales records from every gun shop and then try to determine if ammunition was used in crimes.

To foil straw purchasers -- buyers who step in for someone legally banned from obtaining weapons -- a separate bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) would require owners to report within five days when a gun is stolen or discovered missing. That would remove the excuse that straw buyers often give to the police when guns they purchase are later used in crimes, the mayor said.

A similar law was recently enacted in the city of Los Angeles, but such measures are opposed by groups including the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. Representatives of the group did not return calls for comment, but a statement on the group’s website said the measures will not help reduce illegal use of guns.

“In fact, the ordinances further victimize crime victims, should be called the lawyer’s full employment act, and will frustrate police investigations,” the statement said.

The other bill being introduced, dubbed the Shooting Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights, is by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). It would require that evidence including ballistics patterns on bullets from guns used in crimes be entered into a federal database that would allow investigators to more quickly trace the weapons to other crimes and owners.

Gun control legislation is often difficult to get passed in the California Legislature. A bill similar to Feuer’s was introduced last year by then-Assemblyman Paul Koretz, a Democrat from West Hollywood, but that measure did not make it out of the state Assembly.

However, Bratton and Baca pledged to campaign for the new legislation and to rally other law enforcement executives behind the bills.

“These four pieces of legislation will significantly assist in the identification of guns used in crimes,” Bratton said.