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Petaluma council backs federal ban on assault weapons

Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 6:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 6:47 a.m.

The Petaluma City Council waded into the national gun control debate Monday night by backing a proposal to renew and broaden a federal ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Acting on a request from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the council voted 6-1 to pass a resolution supporting reinstatement of the federal weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Feinstein is pushing a bill, which she said she plans to introduce next month, that would go further than the 1994 law she authored.

That law expired nine years ago, but mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, Conn., have energized calls for tighter restrictions on guns, particularly military-style rifles and large-capacity magazines.

Three people urged the council not to bring Petaluma into Second Amendment debates. No one spoke in favor of the resolution.

The proposed bill would prohibit the sale, import and manufacture of nearly 160 specific weapons, including the make of Bushmaster rifle used in the Newtown school shootings, and ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds.

Mayor David Glass said the “overwhelming sentiment” of Petalumans is supportive of restricting such weaponry.

“It's not a takeaway of weapons,” he said.

Some officials around the country are sending letters to federal officials opposing new gun-control measures. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman has said he plans a similar letter.

Councilman Mike Harris, the only Republican on Petaluma's seven-member council, was the sole vote against the resolution.

He didn't address gun owners' rights or gun control efforts, instead arguing that the council shouldn't delve into national debates.

“It is a slippery slope if we keep taking on federal issues,” he said. “What is next, are we going to start discussing the atrocities in Darfur or take a position on freeing Leonard Peltier or drone usage in Petaluma?

“We're just inviting special interests to continue to come to Petaluma ... and we won't be able to get the city's business done.”

Petaluma residents Don Weisenfluh and Richard Brawn both quoted from the Second Amendment.

The right to keep and bear arms is “wonderfully short, concise and absolute,” Brawn said.

“You took an oath to support what's written right now in the Constitution,” Weisenfluh said, arguing council members were breaking their vows with the vote.

The resolution repeats numbers Feinstein has quoted, saying that since the federal ban expired, “assault weapons have been used in at least 459 incidents, resulting in 385 deaths and 455 injuries.”

It also added a line saying the lack of a federal law undermines California's ban on certain assault-style weapons.

“Weapons of war do not belong on our streets, in our theaters, shopping malls, and most of all, our schools,” the resolution states.

Two weeks ago, Glass sent a letter to Feinstein individually endorsing her legislation.

“Your bill offers a sensible solution that will take these weapons out of our cities and neighborhoods while protecting the rights of legitimate hunters and current gun owners,” he wrote. “I support this common-sense gun safety measure to protect our communities and reduce violence.”

Feinstein's proposal, modeled after California's ban, would close a loophole in state law by barring the use of the “bullet button,” which can be used to quickly change magazines.

This month, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill that would prohibit bullet buttons. Certain weapons would only be allowed to have 10-round magazines that couldn't be changed without dissembling the weapon.

Feinstein's proposed bill wouldn't require those who legally own assault weapons now to turn them in or register them. But if the guns were sold, the buyer would be subject to a background check.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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