California Lawmakers Target Assault Weapons Arkansas Shootings Give More Urgency to Gun-Control Bills in Congress, California

Article excerpt

Against a backdrop of national soul-searching over the link between guns and violence, California lawmakers are leading the effort to tighten control of assault-style weapons.

In Sacramento, the California Legislature is on the verge of passing the nation's toughest ban against such firearms. And in Washington, a coalition of legislators led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California announced March 31 that they will introduce legislation to tighten a landmark 1994 federal law by prohibiting the importation or sale of high-capacity ammunition clips.

While there has been some confusion about just what weapons were used in last week's Arkansas schoolyard shootings, Senator Feinstein said "the weapon that delivered the most carnage was a universal carbine with a 15-round magazine." That's just the kind of firepower the federal and California initiatives promise to control. Prospects for the Feinstein bill are uncertain, but the California legislation has a good shot at clearing the legislature and landing on Gov. Pete Wilson's desk within two weeks. Governor Wilson (R), who has a mixed record on gun control, has not yet indicated whether he would sign the bill. The movement in the United States to prohibit certain types of guns began in this state nearly a decade ago. A Stockton schoolyard attack led to restrictions on the sale of more than 50 types of assault weapons, and similar legislation followed in a number of other states. In addition, Congress passed the Brady law in 1993 - establishing waiting periods and background checks for handgun purchases - and legislation in 1994 that banned the importation and future manufacture of certain semiautomatic weapons. Court challenges Yet loopholes and court challenges have eroded the effectiveness of some of those efforts. Critics like the National Rifle Association (NRA) say there was a fundamental flaw in those earlier actions, and the current legislation is simply repeating it. "The expression 'assault weapon' is not a class of firearm," says Steve Helsley, state liaison for the NRA. "What you're doing with this bill is making a distinction between semiautomatic firearms based on appearance. Once you start trying to legislate a nonexistent class of firearms, you're going to fail. …