The slayings of four Oakland police officers by a felon with an assault weapon and a semi-automatic handgun Saturday seems to be reigniting the gun-control debate.
California has what many call the nation's most stringent assault-weapon ban, as well as other laws that prohibited Lovelle Mixon from possessing the guns he used to kill four officers and wound a fifth. Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland — who in 1999 expanded the state's ban from a list of specific makes and models to any semi-automatic rifles and pistols with certain characteristics — said Monday the weekend's carnage underscores the need to reinstate and expand a federal ban.
"It's still far too easy to import weapons into the state of California," he said. "You would think that now, perhaps with this kind of incident, and with a very strong majority of Democrats in both chambers of Congress and an urban president from Chicago, maybe there's an opportunity to pass a characteristic ban nationally, which I think would be the most important thing we could do."
But Chuck Michel, a civil rights attorney representing the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said such talk is "political opportunism at its worst," in furtherance of flawed public policy.
"That this criminal who was prohibited from having guns at all was able to get whatever rifle he had "... is a monument to the failure of gun-control laws," Michel said. "There's at least
Besides California's assault-weapons ban, state law prohibits anyone with a felony conviction from owning and possessing a firearm; violating this law is itself a felony, punishable by 16, 24 or 36 months in state prison.
A federal assault-weapons ban was enacted in 1994, barring sale to civilians of certain semi-automatic firearms. It expired in September 2004, and efforts to revive it have failed. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month repeated the Obama administration's hope to reinstate the ban, but 65 House Democrats on Wednesday wrote to Holder saying they would oppose such an effort.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., co-authored the 1994 ban and has said she'll carry legislation to bring it back in some form. "She is working on a bill but right now is a time for mourning," Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran said Monday.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said on the House floor Monday that the tragedy should force Congress to "re-examine how we are addressing the ongoing violence that plagues our communities," in part by renewing efforts "to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons in this country. It's hard enough being a cop in this country, without the added pressure of knowing that there could be assault rifles embedded throughout our communities.
"We cannot bring back these brave men, but through the examples of their deaths, we can work to put in place policies that will make our communities safer for not only the people who live there, but also the people who serve those communities," Lee said.
But Michel said California's assault-weapon ban has been in place for almost 20 years, "so obviously that didn't work. As we keep passing laws to make us feel good and give us a false sense of security, we're really not addressing some of the underlying problems that gangs and drugs and violent felon criminals present society. Politicians can pass things that get their names in the papers, but in the meantime, the scene on the streets that police officers face doesn't change."
"The bottom line is: You can ban all the guns you want but the bans don't work, and even if they stopped someone from getting one type of a gun, the bad guy will get a different type of gun," he said. "Any firearm in the wrong hands is a powerful weapon and I want to do anything we can to keep these out of the hands of criminals. There are already laws on the books to prevent that, and now we have to enforce them."