The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to end a long-standing ban on the sale of "ultracompact" firearms, rolling back the rule in the face of legal threats from gun rights groups.
The ban on selling the small guns was first imposed more than a decade and a half ago. It was championed by City Atty. Mike Feuer, who as a councilman at the time argued that "these concealable, compact weapons are the weapons of choice for criminals."
Gun rights groups countered that women and disabled people needed smaller guns to protect themselves from attackers.
More recently, they argued that the ban was preempted by California state law, which restricts the kind of handguns that can be sold by dealers across the state. The National Rifle Assn. and the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. had demanded that the city repeal it.
The council voted 12 to 0 without discussion Tuesday to eliminate the ban, with Council Members Joe Buscaino, Paul Krekorian and Nury Martinez absent. Mayor Eric Garcetti will sign off on the decision, according to his staff.
"My clients are pleased that the city recognized that local governments cannot regulate in ways that conflict with or duplicate state laws," California Rifle & Pistol Assn. attorney Chuck Michel said in a written statement after the vote. "We will continue to monitor local municipal codes throughout California and pursue the clean-up of these kinds of ineffective laws — which typically are never enforced once the initial press conferences are over."
His group declared that the repeal was "a direct result of NRA and CRPA attorneys threatening legal action against the city."
Krekorian, who made the initial motion proposing the rollback, declined to comment on eliminating the ban. Feuer, who had declined to be interviewed earlier because of concerns about possible litigation, issued a brief statement after the vote.
"I expect that state law — prohibiting a wide range of unsafe handguns — will protect Angelenos," he said.
Under the ban, L.A. dealers were barred from selling guns that measure up to 6.75 inches in length and 4.5 inches in height, as well as holsters to carry them. Dealers were also required to keep records of any sales of ultracompact guns to police officers and other buyers not covered by the ban.
No one had been prosecuted under those rules, according to the city attorney's office. However, gun rights groups complained publicly about one early case in which Michel said that a North Hollywood leathersmith had been threatened with prosecution for selling holsters that fit smaller guns.
Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said other California jurisdictions had also rolled back such bans. California law restricts which kinds of guns can be sold, based on testing and micro-stamping requirements. Fewer than 800 handgun models can currently be sold legally in the state.
City officials said they did not know exactly how many kinds of handguns would become legal for sale in L.A. once the ban was reversed. Michel said California law allows "a few" of those guns to be sold.
Eliminating the ban did not worry Women Against Gun Violence Executive Director Margot Bennett, whose group had backed the ban years ago. Bennett said that she was confident that L.A. residents would continue to be protected under state restrictions on handgun sales.
"We're really confident in the city of Los Angeles and that they will continue to do the right thing when it comes to gun violence prevention .… And we feel good that the state is covering us," Bennett said.
Michel said it was not the only victory that the gun rights advocates had notched recently in Los Angeles. His group sued the city after it banned the possession of firearm magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, arguing that the city ban was preempted by state law.
After California voters passed a ballot measure outlawing the possession of such ammunition magazines across the state, L.A. decided to allow its municipal law to expire.
City leaders voted to phase out the ordinance when the state law took effect in July, saying it would prevent anyone from claiming it was duplicative.
Since then, however, gun rights groups have succeeded in getting a federal judge to block the California rules from going into effect while they challenge them in court. Because the city ordinance has now expired, that means gun owners can now legally possess such ammunition magazines in L.A.
Krekorian, who pushed for the city ban on the ammunition magazines, said in a statement Tuesday that "although the gun lobbyists eventually found a way to delay the statewide ban, I'm confident that the 9th Circuit will ultimately reverse this anomalous decision and reinstate the ban to protect everyone in California."
5:05 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background, and details of the city's ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines being put on hold in the wake of a federal court ruling.
11:40 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from City Atty. Mike Feuer's spokesman, Rob Wilcox, and from Women Against Gun Violence Executive Director Margot Bennett.