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Posted: 9/13/2004 6:10:50 AM EDT
Keep your kids and wives home today!!

Hide your cats!

The streets will overflow with blood

Gun ban lifted today

Politicians, cops and the NRA all prepare for the aftermath

By SARA A. CARTER, Staff Writer

What began as a domestic disturbance escalated quickly into a shooting melee that ended with the wounding of two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies by gunfire from an assault weapon.
It was 1991, and Robert Dean Schwartz of San Bernardino stood outside his apartment brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle, a hot weapon from the Cold War.

The distraught Schwartz pointed the rifle at approaching deputies and opened fire, spraying bullets wildly at the outgunned officers and into the late afternoon sky. The deputies ran for their lives, but two were wounded.

Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have been banned in the United States for a decade, but that proscription ends at midnight.

And for gun advocates, sportsmen, the National Rifle Association and even some street cops, the lift couldn't come soon enough. They say the ban took away their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Top law enforcement officials believe otherwise.

"I think clearly when the ban lifts, then those guns will have more of a chance of getting across the border,' said Pomona Police Chief James Lewis. Political pressure fails

Lewis sent letters last week to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both D-Calif., and eager proponents of continuing the ban, asking them to pressure their congressional piers to renew the ban.

"It won't require us to do anything differently, but it does lift up the danger notch for our department.'

The ban was enabled by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which was authored by Feinstein and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

It's dying almost without a whimper, despite political arm-twisting by Feinstein.

President Bush has expressed support for continuing the ban, but has taken no action to pressure Congress to act. Some proponents of the ban say Bush has taken a low-key position to secure the endorsement of the politically powerful NRA.

The ending of the national ban will have little effect in California, which has its own strict assault-weapon control law. It could, however, affect the number of high-capacity assault weapons that end up in the hands of criminals and gang members on our streets, police officials and assault weapons opponents said.

California's strict controls were enacted in 1989 as the state reeled in shock when drifter Patrick Purdy waited in ambush with an AK-47 outside a Stockton elementary school and began systematically and mercilessly picking off the youngsters as they played during recess. He fired more than 100 times.

Five died and 30 were wounded.

Since then, the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of California placed an indefinite weapons ban on specified assault weapons or enhanced weapons.

In January 2000, the Legislature expanded the ban list to include semiautomatic centerfire rifles with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, threaded barrels and other enhancements.

"California in 1989 became the first state to ban these military-type assault weapons,' said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, in a statement last week. "But without federal prohibition on the manufacture, sale and possession of these killing machines, these weapons will become more accessible to those willing to smuggle them into our state.'

Modified weapons

The state Penal Code lists more than 50 illegal assault weapons and more than 30 illegal weapon enhancements considered by the code to have "assault weapon' status.

This is when complications arise for the regular gun owner, said John Pride, a retired Los Angeles Police Department detective with the ballistic unit and bomb squad who was practicing at Prado Olympic Shooting Range in Chino.

Pride, a gun advocate and supporter of lifting the ban, is also a four-time NRA Bianchi Cup shooting champion. He disagrees with ban proponents and said criminals usually get their guns illegally or steal them.

"The only people the ban effects is the everyday citizen that I now see getting arrested because they altered their gun without understanding the law,' Pride said.

"They get arrested for so-called assault rifles when all they had was a threaded barrel a magazine in front of the grip. Backdoor gun control has nothing to do with crime control.'

Pistols used in Olympics competition have threaded barrels and Olympians aren't criminals, Pride said, adding the ban only adds more bureaucracy for those who are already law abiding.

Threaded barrels can be used to add barrel extenders, flash suppressors, forward handgrips or silencers all of which are illegal without a permit from the state Justice Department. Olympians use the specialized barrel threading to aid recoil control and improve accuracy, Pride said.

The Justice Department issues special gun permits to Olympic athletes.

But 180-degrees opposite of Pride's position are the nation's leading law enforcement officials, some of whom joined gunshot survivors and families of victims in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and pleaded with Congress to extend the ban.

At that meeting, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton accused Congress and President Bush of putting the lives of police officers at risk by failing to extend the ban.

A recent study analyzing FBI data shows that 20percent of the law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty from 1998 to 2001 were killed with an assault weapon, according to the Violence Policy Center in Washington, a national nonprofit organization working to fight firearms violence.

The Brady Campaign, a national grass-roots organization that pushed Congress to enact the Brady Bill in 1994 to force dealers to register gun buyers, has also fought in vain to get Congress to continue the ban. The bill is named for James Brady, former President Ronald Reagan's press secretary. He and Reagan were wounded in the same assassination attempt on Reagan's life.

"No one said that gun control is the panacea to gun violence,' said Eric Howard, Brady Campaign spokesman in Washington. "It's very maddening. We thought that George W. Bush would keep his promise to renew the ban, especially when you have over 70 percent of the country agreeing. He's the one flip-flopping.'

Easy access across border

Assault ban activists point to al-Qaida training manuals instructing terrorists to purchase assault weapons at gun shows in the United States, Howard said.

"Anyone can get a gun if they really want to,' Pride said. "It's not about al-Qaida. The bottom line is a person in California can get sent to prison for the same thing a person in Arizona can own 12 of,' he added.

And with lax gun laws in Nevada and Arizona, the purchase of banned weapons from out of state is as easy as a short drive across the border, Lewis said.

For Roger King, a retired police officer who has owned Accurate Arms Ammo II in Kingman, Ariz., since 1992, business is picking up with orders for formerly banned weapons.

King expects to start stocking post-ban high-capacity magazines for all types of guns. It may be, he said, that manufacturers will price gouge for some time, so that may keep him from adding to his stock until prices are more reasonable.

A number of customers have come in during the last couple of days, King said, asking about what will be available after the ban.

"We've had several people talking about it,' he said.

King said that by law, he cannot sell to California residents, who are banned from importing or transporting illegal firearms into the state.

And although store owners will check identification, it won't stop Californians from getting the weapons from friends or relatives out of state, Lewis said.

Many Californians don't realize that the law won't allow them to purchase the weapons, he said.

"We still believe in the Second Amendment here,' he said. "We're not like California.'
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