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Yee bill targets assault weapon loophole
July 12, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal A billboard on Highway 101 in San Mateo County opposes Senate Bill 249, a bill that targets semi-automatic weapons.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo has been threatened before for some of his controversial legislation and comments while serving in Sacramento but foes of a new bill Yee is pushing to close a "loophole” in state law related to semi-automatic weapons has drawn out some of the most racist diatribes the senator has ever received.

Although the senator and his office are used to getting threats for his positions on issues such as violent video games; Sarah Palin’s paycheck for a speaking engagement at a California State University campus; and calling out Rush Limbaugh for racist comments he made on radio, the new threats have taken an even uglier turn, said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff.

"Usually you dismiss them but the volume of racist comments is high. The number of letters that reference Yee’s ethnicity is quite surprising,” Keigwin told the Daily Journal yesterday.

Senate Bill 249 passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week on a 4-2 vote and will be considered after the Legislature comes back from break in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Although California has some of strongest gun control laws in the country, gun manufacturers are getting around one the state’s most important assault weapon laws, according to Yee’s office. The loophole allows ownership of a semi-automatic weapon — such as an AR-15 and AK-47 — that has a magazine which can be easily detached by a small magnet.

Magazines, or the storage areas that allow for repeat firing, that can be removed by a normal push button in combination with features such as a pistol grip and telescoping stock are banned in California. The law essentially requires magazines to be fixed, or removed or replaced with the use of a tool, in order to slow down the process of reloading.

To get around the law, gun makers have created a new mechanism, or "tool,” that allows the magazine to be easily removed by just putting a small magnet over the tool release feature, basically recreating a normal push button and allowing magazines to be changed within seconds, according to Yee’s office.

The National Rifle Association, California Rifle & Pistol Association and California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees oppose the bill and have encouraged their members to write Yee and other lawmakers expressing their opposition to the legislation.

The California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees has even paid for a billboard on northbound Highway 101 in San Carlos that reads "Sen. Yee hates your civil rights! Stop SB 249.”

The billboard was placed on Highway 101 to inform residents of the area about the issue and Yee’s history of authoring unconstitutional laws, said Brandon Combs, who is on the board of the licensees’ group.

He pointed to the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law that would restrict the sale of violent video games as an example of Yee’s unconstitutional laws.

The group does not, however, endorse the use of racist comments to intimidate lawmakers, he said.

"We deplore any racist comments and we stand with Yee in that regard. It’s not about Yee, it’s about the bill,” Combs told the Daily Journal yesterday.

The groups contend that Yee’s bill will make criminals out of law-abiding citizens but Yee says the "loophole” in existing law circumvents the spirit of gun-control laws already on the books.

"There is absolutely no reason why these military-style weapons need to have such easily changeable magazines. While most gun owners are law abiding, I am deeply concerned with these assault weapons getting into the wrong hands, resulting in mass casualties of civilians or law enforcement officers,” Yee wrote in a statement.

Opponents of the bill have sent thousands of letters to Yee’s office urging him to drop the effort. Most, about 99 percent, come from outside his district, Keigwin said.

Some of the most radical comments from foes of the bill included: "Buddy we are out here and we are going to fight you … I see you’re from Communist China and you aren’t getting away with this crap … Go back to China.”

Others have taken to Twitter, Facebook, Calguns.net, AR15.com, AroundTheCapitol.com and other websites to post offensive comments and photos, including racist caricatures of Asians and comments such as "Take this sh*t back to China you communist f*ck,” "who the f*ck let a chink into office,” and "Read the AMERICAN constitution, you commie chink f*ck,” among others, according to Yee’s office.

The offensive comments will not stop Yee from pushing for the bill’s passage, Keigwin said.

The California Rifle & Pistol Association’s concerns regarding SB 249 include the fact that it would make it illegal to possess parts for magazine releases on most semi-automatic firearms with detachable magazines. There are hundreds of thousands of firearms that may be impacted by SB 249, the organization contends. These firearms are legally owned by California residents and Yee’s bill could potentially make criminals out of law-abiding citizens, the organization states on its website.

The California Police Chiefs Association is not supporting SB 249 and believes the issue should be addressed administratively through the California Attorney General’s Office.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: silverfarb@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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