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Calif. Democrats Push Wide-Ranging Gun Control Bills

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers took their first step toward moving a gun control legislation package Tuesday, following similar tough firearm and ammunition restrictions enacted in several other states in the wake of recent shooting rampages.

Democrats in the California Senate began using their majority to advance seven bills that would tighten the state's already strict gun laws as dozens of supporters and opponents packed the committee room.

One of the proposals would ban the sale of any semi-automatic rifle that accepts detachable ammunition magazines. Opponents and supporters alike said the plan goes further than prohibitions in other states.

Some of the measures, including a ban on possessing ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets, would apply to current gun owners as well as those who buy weapons in the future.

"We simply can't wait until the next tragedy before taking action," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the Senate Public Safety Committee.

The proposals come in the aftermath of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. Other bills in the package would:

— Make it more difficult to rapidly reload weapons with high-capacity magazines.

— Add a combination shotgun-rifle to the state's list of prohibited weapons.

— Require background checks for all gun owners.

— Require ammunition buyers to undergo a background check and get a permit.

— Require more training for gun buyers.

— And add new crimes to the list of those that disqualify Californians from owning weapons.

New York, Connecticut and Colorado have passed restrictions on firearms in response to recent mass shootings.

The California gun control bills are among at least 30 such measures introduced in the state this year, and the new proposals stand a fair chance at becoming law. Democrats dominate the Senate Public Safety Committee, 5-2, and hold two-thirds majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he is confident the bills will pass. Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, has not said whether he would sign the measures.

Steinberg is the author of SB374, which would outlaw rifles with detachable magazines. He said the bill would close "loopholes and gaps that the manufacturers have exploited" to sell military-style assault weapons in the state.

The Sacramento Democrat estimated that about 355 California residents and 3,300 people nationwide have died from gun violence since the Connecticut elementary school shooting in December.

However, gun rights advocate Jake McGuigan said few assault weapons are used in homicides in California, citing state Department of Justice statistics.

"We don't look for the loopholes," said McGuigan, a National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman. "We only look to comply with the legislation."

Steinberg and other supporters acknowledged that California laws can be skirted by those who travel to other states to buy weapons, underscoring their desire for federal gun control legislation. However, Steinberg said, that is no reason for California lawmakers to avoid taking action on their own.

Gun control activist Rick Jacobs said that California lawmakers are acting, "while unfortunately those folks in Washington are watching."

Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, said his group helped collect more than 31,000 signatures backing the gun restrictions.

Dozens of gun control advocates, some of them in tears, told the committee of their horror at shootings that have killed their loved ones.

Opponents testified that the ban on future sales of rifles with detachable magazines would outlaw firearms that don't generally qualify as assault weapons and would sweep up Californians who would inadvertently be breaking the law.

Rob Young, who survived a 1989 shooting at a Stockton elementary school, was among law enforcement officials and opponents who testified against the bills.

"I have never blamed the firearm," said Young, a police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was hurt when Patrick Purdy used a military-style rifle to kill five children and wound 30 others before killing himself.

Young said the proposed bills will do little to stop crime but will harm law-abiding citizens. "Criminals," he said, "do not play by the rules."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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