- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

LOS ANGELES Hundreds of California gun owners are taking their assault-style weapons out of state or putting them in hiding to avoid a registration deadline that took effect Jan 1.

At the same time, sales of several hundred handgun models have been halted under terms of another new law requiring they be tested and certified by state officials before being put on sale.

As of Dec. 29, the last weekday before the registration deadline, just 10,000 gun owners had signed state forms and paid the $20 fee, reported the California Department of Justice.

"No one knows exactly how many of these types of guns are in private hands, but we estimate the number is far higher than what has been registered," said state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat.

The new law expands a 1989 ban on sales of new military-type weapons. That law listed guns by brand name and model, requiring owners of existing weapons to register them. But loopholes allowed continued sales of slightly altered models and imitations.

The new law defines outlawed weapons by feature, banning new sales of semiautomatic centerfire rifles and rifles with pistol grips protruding beneath the weapon, thumbhole stocks, folding stocks, flash suppressors and fixed magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Semiautomatic pistols also are included in the ban if they have threaded barrels capable of accepting a flash suppressor, silencers or the capacity to accept a detachable magazine outside the pistol grip.

Owners of such guns can keep them but risk a fine of $500 and jail time if the weapons are not registered. Supporters of registration say it is needed to enforce the sales ban. Sales can be regulated, said legislators who backed the new law, only if authorities know which guns were in the state before the ban began.

But gun owners fear the sales ban and registration law are the first steps in an effort to disarm them. The National Rifle Association and the California Sporting Goods Association said they would sue to have the registration deadline extended indefinitely because owners didn't get enough notice of the new rules. Registration regulations were published on Dec. 5, less than a month before the Dec. 31 postmark deadline for sending registration cards to the state.

Meanwhile, hundreds of gun owners reacted by moving their guns to nearby states without registration laws or sales bans on assault weapons. Many are sending weapons to relatives or friends in other states for storage. Others are paying to keep them closer by, where they still can be used for recreational shooting.

More than 400 California gun buffs so far have placed weapons at the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute outside Las Vegas, where a $500 fee covers storage and weapons training and maintenance of a gun for up to two years. Other centers in Reno and Carson City, Nev., and several small Arizona cities just across the Colorado River from California reportedly are about to begin accepting guns.

"I sent one gun to my cousin in Texas," said Leo Pangross, a building contractor in the Los Angeles suburb of Corona. "I can't take it out and shoot it, but at least I still have it and I can go get it if I feel like I need it."

State officials maintain they passed the law because no one needs such weapons. "The only use they have is to kill a large number of people in a short time," said Nathan Barankin, a top aide to Mr. Lockyer. "No one's using them to protect themselves or their family or their home. These are not the weapons of choice for that purpose. We're not trying to disarm the public; we're just trying to have a safer society."

The goal of safety-testing pistols is the same. As of Jan. 1, only 202 of more than 900 known handgun models had been certified for sale in California, where the last week of 2000 featured a run on many uncertified models, according to gun stores.

"This law infringes on people's right to bear arms," said Barry Bauer, owner of a Fresno sporting goods shop. "The people of California can't buy the same handguns people in the rest of the nation can."

Like other store owners, Mr. Bauer now must sell off his stock of uncertified handguns to out-of-state customers or dealers in other states.

Legislators said the new law is designed to prevent guns from exploding in users' hands, as some cheaply made "Saturday night specials" have done. Three samples of each model now must be tested in two ways:

• Each is dropped six times from the height of one meter. If one gun fires on impact, the model fails the test.

• Each pistol is fired 600 times, with any model failing if it jams or misfires during the first 20 rounds or if it malfunctions more than six times during the 600 rounds.

State testing costs manufacturers $2,000 per gun.


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