Can We Ban Assault Guns?

California and the nation consider new laws, despite tough going for older ones

| January 10, 2013

In Sacramento this year, state legislators will be trying -- again -- to craft laws that might truly limit access to the guns of mass slaughter, instead of just inspiring fresh bouts of creativity from gun makers.

In Washington, California's senior senator will ask Congress -- again -- to try to ban assault weapons, this time permanently and with tougher rules that might be harder to sidestep.

In both capitals, key lawmakers are insisting that 2013 is the year to rethink America's relationship to weapons, and gun advocates are just as loudly insisting that we can't be free unless we're armed. Very, very well armed.

On paper, California is hell on guns. The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence gives it a glowing 81 out of 100 points on a scorecard that measures firearm trafficking laws, background checks, assault weapons bans, child safety and guns in public places. The next closest state, New Jersey, ranks only 72, and more than half of U.S. states place in the single digits.

Yet with all that, Californians still have relatively easy access to rapid-fire weapons and big ammunition arsenals, partly because each time a law is written, gun makers find ways to make weapons and bullet-holding devices just different enough to be exempt.

In California, "our challenge has always been keeping up with the gun industry," said Rhys Williams, press secretary to state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, who as Senate president pro tem will be heavily involved in the next wave of gun laws.

When California banned assault weapons by listing the prohibited guns, gun makers created near-copycat weapons with different names. When California banned assault weapons by describing their features -- the same approach being considered nationwide -- the gun industry tweaked those features or argued for different interpretations of what the law means.

The state's current ban tries to restrict guns that make it comfortable and easy to spray out lots of bullets very quickly. The penal code section describing such guns is long and detailed, but among other things it prohibits semiautomatic, center-fire rifles that have detachable magazines along with any one of six other features, from certain types of pistol grips to folding or telescoping stocks to flash suppressor or grenade launchers. Another portion of the state law forbids people from buying or selling "high capacity" magazines that hold more than 10 bullets -- but it doesn't forbid owning them.

Detachable magazines matter because if one can be snapped out quickly and another snapped in, a gunman can keep firing into a crowd. The tougher and more time consuming it is to reload, the easier it is for victims to tackle their assailant or flee.

"That's what saved lives in Tuscon [when then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot]. ... The killer was apprehended while reloading his gun. He was wrestled down," said Williams, Steinberg's spokesman.

The killer fumbled and dropped the magazine in that 2011 assault, which left six people dead and Giffords with brain injuries. California's laws, in essence, try to impose that kind of fumbling time by preventing easy reloading and making big magazines tougher to get. The state's limits on magazine size and detachability earn it a 10 out of 10 on the Brady scorecard, the only state to rank so high.

In response, weapons makers designed a magazine that slips off not by hand, but with a tool -- either a push from bullet into a "bullet button" or a swift nudge from another small, easily pocketed device.

Manufacturers also began selling "repair kits" for older, larger magazines that can hold 30 bullets. The kits can be assembled into the larger magazines, but in California they come with warnings that they are intended to be used only for repairs.

Other tactics include selling magazines big enough to hold 30 bullets, but with a dowel or flimsy plastic part to prevent them from being loaded with more than 10. "The part is cheap plastic and can be twisted off," said Steve Lindley, chief of the Bureau of Firearms in the state Department of Justice. Then some gun makers are moving or redesigning where the stock is or at how much of an angle it protrudes, to try to produce Rambo-looking machinery that nonetheless is legal in California.

Those four workarounds -- the bullet button, the magazine repair kit, easily altered magazines, and changing stock designs -- are the most common right now, Lindley said, although others crop up continually.

During the last election, Democrats swept into the state Legislature in such numbers that both the Senate and the Assembly have Democratic super-majorities, and gun bills are already starting to move in both houses.

The provisions of each measure could keep shifting over the next few months, but currently among them are SB 47 by state Sen. Leland Yee, which would close the bullet button loophole; AB 48 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, which would make it illegal to own a large-capacity magazine that holds more than 10 bullets; and SB 53 by Sen. Kevin De Leon, which would require an annual permit and a background check for anyone who wants to buy ammunition.

With the Connecticut school shooting still fresh in lawmakers' minds, more measures are likely to crop up before the end of the month, which is the formal deadline for introducing new bills.

Williams expects the Democratic caucus to work together on other needed public safety legislation, and to pass some bills into law by September.

"The talk of what needs to be done is framed as gun control, but that's not the objective here. The objective is to support responsible sportsmen and sportswomen while lowering the possibility of massacres in public spaces," Williams said. Gun control is one piece of that, he said, because "the data is unequivocal" that tighter regulations translate into less violence and fewer deaths.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., President Obama has asked Vice President Biden to take charge of the administration's legislative response to the shootings, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said she'll introduce a bill this month to ban selling or making assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices. Although her bill in many ways would be modeled after California law, it would include a bullet button ban and other provisions to try to thwart known workarounds.

Even so, a Biden adviser told the New York Times last month that it's tough to actually ban assault weapons because their manufacturers respond so quickly. But even if the federal vote is largely symbolic, former U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman said, that symbolism is important. "You send a message when you don't do anything," Kaufman told the Times.

 Can We Ban Assault Guns?


Comments (26)

Showing 1-25 of 26

You know, we also banned street drugs in America. You see how that is working!
Our system is a joke people. The number one reason a criminal does not bust into your home is because the owner maybe waiting inside with a gun. Now they want to take away our guns to protect us. Criminals are now trolling the streets all across America. Lawlessness!

report 1 like, 0 dislikes   
Posted by toldyouso on 01/10/2013 at 3:18 PM

Guns don't kill people, gun owners do.

report 0 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Buzz on 01/10/2013 at 4:17 PM

Firearms, when used properly, can make us all safer. Fastest way I know of to stop a madman with a gun is to shoot them. Fewer guns in public will lead to longer shooting sprees because no one will be equipped to stop them. Keep our kids safe. Keep responsible Americans armed.

report 1 like, 0 dislikes   
Posted by b on 01/10/2013 at 8:54 PM

Let's see...marijuana is an illegal drug by Federal Statute...Your state gives it a thumbs up...those scarey guns account for less that 1/10 of 1% of crimes committed. You wet your pants over the sight of a law abiding person exercising his/her constitutional right. It's ok over there to be on welfare and soak up tax payer dollars for who knows how many years because finding a job is too hard. Anyone can flip a burger or dunk fries. How about this let your state shred the constitution and fund itself with your own illegal drug revenues. At the same time, have ALL Federal funding for California pulled. That means money for roads, schools, local governments and anything even touched by federal tax dollars be yanked. I'm not being mean or anything. Seems fair.

Posted by Lee on 01/10/2013 at 8:58 PM

America is blinded by the false sense of security by their obsession for weapons. Wake up Amurica. If the government wants to take you over, hell, they'll take you over. But clearly... American children's safety < obsession for guns. WOW. i do say that's a great nation to live in! Pathetic.

Posted by Luke on 01/10/2013 at 10:51 PM

I'm going to start an "open carry" program in Arcata. Who's with me? This should piss off these liberals. We will meet on the plaza every Friday and openly display our unloaded weapons! Legally!!!

Posted by Open carry on 01/11/2013 at 6:19 AM

"The number one reason a criminal does not bust into your home is because the owner maybe waiting inside with a gun" Bullshit. Criminals choose their targets based on the prize. Why do you think they target growers and dealer, whom are most likely armed?

Posted by JJ on 01/11/2013 at 7:10 AM

Open Carry wrote, . "We will meet on the plaza every Friday and openly display our unloaded weapons! Legally!!!". You haven't heard that openly displaying unloaded guns is already illegal in California? JJ wrote, "Criminals choose their targets based on the prize.". Not necessarily. Most of the time homes are broken into burglars aren't sure what they'll be able to steal.

Posted by Fred Mangels on 01/11/2013 at 8:20 AM

Handguns only Fred

Posted by Open carry on 01/11/2013 at 8:54 AM


Posted by 50 Caliber on 01/11/2013 at 12:44 PM

Open Carry wrote, "Handguns only Fred". Nope. Long guns, too. The law was passed last year, mostly in reaction to the various in- your- face open carry demonstrations that were taking place. Look it up.

Posted by Fred Mangels on 01/11/2013 at 2:09 PM

Check out the FBI's crime statistics, available on their website Table 20 under the Violent Crime section of the Uniform Crime Report has data for what type of weapon was used for homicides for every state in the US: In California during the year 2011, there were 1790 homicides, 1220 by firearm. Though 866 of those murders were committed with handguns, only 45 were with rifles of all types, and regardless of magazine capacity. Interesting to note are the numbers of homicides with knives or cutting instruments 261, "other weapons" such as blunt objects 208, and the number of people killed by "hand, fist, feet, etc" with a footnote that includes pushing in this group of 101. Feel free to look the data up yourself, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that in California for the year of 2011 you were more than twice as likely to be killed with a hand, fist, foot, or pushed than by a rifle of any type and regardless of magazine capacity. Out of all 50 states in Table 20 of the FBI's Uniform Crime Report on Violent Crime showing the types of weapons used in the known murders committed in the year 2011, there are only 4 states where the number of murders committed with a rifle out number the murders committed by 'hand, fist, and foot'. These numbers are easy to find and interpret. During the past forty years, 1982 to 2012, there have been 70 mass shootings in the US, leaving 543 people dead. That is less than the combined numbers of people killed in California by the three categories in the above Table 20 of "knives and other cutting implements, other (non-firearm, non-knife) weapons, and hands, fists, feet or pushing" 261+208+101= 570 in last year alone. "Assault weapons" are not the problem. But they sure are a convenient scape goat that allows politicians to 'do something'. It is much more difficult to fix the economy in a way to open more opportunities for the lower and middle classes, or to improve the educational system in such a way as to instill the types of values in our children and each other such that we will be good to everyone, and reciprocation of that love to be willingly a prolific and generous thing.

Posted by Jeremy Webb on 01/11/2013 at 3:23 PM

The 2nd amendment was not about hunting rights. It was about the citizenry defending itself from the tyranny of future governments. If your govt has drones to hunt you and kill you, why wouldn't you want to stop it from its objective? Who are you more afraid of? Would you prefer a liberal dictatorship, or a conservative one? At what point, would it matter? Going along with this administration does not guarantee that the next one will not be what you agree with, and that it won't go all the way to complete control of every aspect of your life. You may love Barack Obama, and love everything he is doing, but I am almost certain he will not achieve the state of "forever president". It's the next election and the one after that that you should be looking to. The idea of limiting the citizens of their right to not be ruled over is the purpose of arming them. Limiting how many, what kind, where kept, etc., is asinine.
The conversation should go in the direction of mental health. There are far too many people who need more than out-patient services can provide. There are some who DO need to be institutionalized, protected from themselves and protecting others. We NEED to re-examine our care of the mentally ill. They are, in high numbers, the ones who are homeless, drug-addicted and victims of crime, abuse, and neglect. They are also the ones who are arrested and jailed because there is not a decent, caring system that can help and house them.
We know our local "characters", the ones who walk the streets in town, talking gibberish, gesturing and yelling, dashing into traffic, slumped in a doorway. Not as many as you think are just drug addicts or "winos" Their decline typically started with their mental health.
Take this conversation back to the drawing board. Start with the individuals who have acted on our society which has caused us all to be so sad and feel defenseless. I ache for the families who have lost their own to random insanity. I want to protect myself and family from every possible harm, I want there to be a world of sweetness and light for every one. No war, no hunger...etc. but I can't provide this, and there is no simple solution. Removing guns from the population will only open a whole other can of worms. Worse than this.

Posted by growleymom on 01/11/2013 at 5:04 PM

Just did. Fred you are wrong the new signed by gov brown does not apply to rifles or shotguns

Posted by Open carry on 01/11/2013 at 5:23 PM

You didn't look far enough. Here's an LA Times article from last September about the new ban on open carry of long guns:

Posted by Fred Mangels on 01/12/2013 at 9:02 AM

That link didn't embed right. Here's a tiny url to the news story:

Posted by Fred Mangels on 01/12/2013 at 9:04 AM

One more try:

Posted by Fred Mangels on 01/12/2013 at 9:06 AM

When are people going to wake up? I guarantee that you will never meet a soul who went or knew anyone from Sandy Hook ( right around the corner from Yale University) or VIrginia Tech( yes the Commonwealth state of VA). Do you own a radio station, or tv network, how bout a newspaper? There are 2 sides to these events that really never happened. 1. CIA Black Ops which really = blacked out eyes of cadavers, which is what you see on TV. 2. CIA is preparing you for the future with surveillance systems, security, paranoia, rear view cameras ( the lady who ran over her daughter) sure! The Dept. of Homeland Security was up and running within a week of 911. Oh the Rothchilds/CIA own that building too. WAKE UP PEOPLE, you are being sold fear.

Posted by dannyhannah on 01/12/2013 at 11:50 AM

Did anyone happen to notice the guy's face who was said to do the damage at Sandy Hook? Did he look alive to you. How bout James whatever the f$% his face. Absolute b/s

Posted by dannyhannah on 01/12/2013 at 11:54 AM

Hey Fred- Remember the idiot on the plaza with the ar 15 on Halloween? His gun was taken for safety reasons, according to the police chief no laws were broken.

Posted by Open carry on 01/13/2013 at 10:54 AM

Throughout most of my adult life, I never owned a gun. They were made to kill people and I was basically a pacifist and couldn't imagine ever taking someone's life. That changed when I got married and had a child. I now own a 12 gauge shotgun and .38 revolver that I have a carry permit for. I am not a big guy, I don't know martial arts and I see a firearm as a way to protect my family from those folks who mean to do them harm. When I was younger, I couldn't bear the thought of taking another persons' life… today I can't bear the thought of someone doing harm to my family while I am unable to protect them. Priorities change. Regarding bans on guns, I really think this is just a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible incident, that even if passed, will do absolutely nothing to stop something like this happening in the future. There are hundreds of millions of guns in America. There is NO WAY to remove enough of them to make any significant impact on a crazy (or evil) person's ability to obtain one. Sure, you can ban assault weapons or large clips, but do you really think that will do anything??? A handgun with a 10 round clip will be almost as deadly. You can change clips in a heartbeat. You can also modify a 10 round clip into a 50 round clip with very minimal skills. There really isn't much to a firearm. Criminals do not obey the law. They will always have access to guns and always have the ability to murder dozens of people if they are so inclined. This may be with an assault rifle, a handgun, a pipe bomb, or a 4x4 truck driving through a crowd. This simply CAN NOT be stopped and in trying all we are doing is stripping the freedoms from those who actually abide by the law. The only way to stop a guy on a shooting spree is by shooting him. That is just the sad truth of it. Statistics get warped on both sides of this issue, but there certainly is no good study that shows a ban like this has any significant impact on violent crime. Most studies actually show the opposite is true. States that have allowed citizens to carry guns show a decrease in violent crime. It really just makes sense if you think about it from a criminals prospective. Would you rather rob a person in a county that freely issues concealed carry permits or rob someone in a county with a complete gun ban? So, I own guns. I don't really like guns, but I see them as a necessary evil. This, of course, doesn't even take into account that pesky U.S. Constitution that guarantees the citizens' right to have them.

report 1 like, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Normal guy on 01/13/2013 at 2:17 PM

The "idiot on the plaza" was not breaking any laws on Halloween. The ban on open carry for long guns went into effect on Jan 1, 2013.

Posted by Citizen Crane on 01/13/2013 at 2:31 PM

People who shoot other people give guns a bad reputation. Guns cause a tiny percentage of all unnatural deaths in the US. Banning guns will work about as well as banning alcohol did during Prohibition. My own grandmother made "bathtub gin", and made beer in her basement, AND the local Chief of Police used to stop by weekly for a drink! On the other hand, I do believe all magazines that hold a ridiculous number of bullets should be banned.

Posted by Gila's Mom on 01/22/2013 at 9:27 AM

"People who shoot other people give guns a bad reputation." Priceless comment!

Posted by Har har on 01/29/2013 at 4:48 PM

Maybe the best way to stop a madman with a gun is to invest a few bucks in an effective mental health care system, so he doesn't turn into a madman. Why are we assuming the problem is access to weapons? A homicidal maniac without a gun is still a homicidal maniac. Instead of wasting our time with ineffective gun control laws let's spend some time and effort making people not crazy.

Posted by Ryan Samuelson on 01/31/2013 at 8:36 AM
Showing 1-25 of 26

Add a comment