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California lawmakers pass expanded semi-automatic weapons ban

People fire at targets at the Los Angeles gun club in Los Angeles, January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
People fire at targets at the Los Angeles gun club in Los Angeles, January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - New sales of semi-automatic rifles with removable magazines would be banned in California under a bill passed by the Democratic-led state legislature on Tuesday, and those who already own such weapons would have to register them.

The measure, which passed the state Assembly 44-31 and is expected to go to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature after amendments are approved in the state Senate, is one of a package of gun control bills passed earlier this year by senators in the wake of the massacre last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

It would classify as an assault weapon as any rifle that accepts a detachable magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and would ban its sale or purchase. People who already own such weapons would be required to register them.

"How many more innocent men, women and children have to be slaughtered while going about their daily lives before we do something?" asked Assemblyman Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Sr., a Democrat from Los Angeles, speaking in favor of the ban.

He ticked off a gruesome list of recent gun massacres: Sandy Hook, killings at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the Colorado movie theater killings and others.

The road to passage has not been easy for several of the weapons measures introduced this year, despite California's history of strong gun control laws and large legislative majorities for Democrats, who tend to favor them.

New voting laws in the state have made it necessary for many Democrats - particularly in the Assembly - to win over moderates and conservatives, and Republicans were joined by several Democrats in opposing the bill.

"I don't know what the right word is to express how strongly I oppose this bill," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican who represents the Southern California community of Twin Peaks, complaining that it amounted to a direct swipe against the constitutional right to bear arms.

California, which has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation, already bans rifles with large-capacity fixed magazines, which cannot be removed. This bill would expand that ban to add rifles that accept large-capacity removable magazines.

Other bills in the package passed by the Senate would have tightened additional laws, including banning a type of trigger known as a button.

Faced with reluctance by the more conservative, but still Democratic leaning, state Assembly to take up the package, Assembly Speaker John Perez, himself a gun owner, placed the bills in legislative limbo where they remained for months.

Now, with the end of the session looming on Thursday, Perez late last week released three of the bills, including the one passed on Tuesday. Six Democrats joined Assembly Republicans to vote in the minority against the measure.

Two other bills remain active from the original package, and are expected to be heard later this week.

One would ban possession of any ammunition clip that holds more than 10 rounds, and the other bans people with multiple drug and alcohol convictions and convictions for gang-related crimes from owning a firearm for 10 years.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)

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