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California bill would ban conversion kits for automatic weapons

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California lawmakers voted on Wednesday to ban kits used to convert standard firearms into semi-automatics capable of firing more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading, but a measure to ban possession of large-capacity magazines was defeated.

The conversion kit ban, one of a number of gun control bills making their way through the Legislature in the waning days of the session, also prohibits the purchase of large-capacity magazines in the state.

"Now, legally you can buy and you can sell conversion kits that allow you to convert conventional magazines so they can shoot many more than 10 rounds without reloading," said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, who sponsored the bill.

Passage has not been easy for the more than a dozen gun control bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers in the wake of several mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last year.

Even so, California has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. An assault weapons ban has been in place since 1989, passed after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Stockton.

Democrats control large majorities in both houses as well as the governorship. But many lawmakers owe their jobs to moderate and conservative voters in rural counties, and are hesitant to take on hot-button issues like firearms regulation.

The bill banning conversion kits, for example, passed only after a provision requiring a database to track sales of ammunition in the state was removed.

It passed by 43-30, with five Democrats joining the Assembly's 25 Republicans in opposition. The Senate had passed it earlier and it will now go to Governor Jerry Brown, who has not said if he will sign it.

Another measure, to ban repeat drug and alcohol offenders, as well as people who commit some gang-related crimes, from gun ownership for 10 years passed on a vote of 42-27. A bill prohibiting corporations from using the same assault weapons permit for more than one employee also passed.

On Tuesday, lawmakers voted to ban new sales of semi-automatic rifles with removable magazines and to require people who already own such weapons to register them.

But a measure that would ban possession of large-capacity magazines in the state failed to win the vote of the Assembly's top Democrat, Speaker John Perez. Perez, a gun owner, was among several Democrats who either withheld their votes or cast ballots against the bill, which failed despite hours of lobbying by backers.

Republicans continued their opposition to the gun control measures on Wednesday, voting against them as a bloc and warning that the measures were threats to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which sets out the right to bear arms.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who represents the Southern California community of Twin Peaks, said the bill banning conversion kits would wrongly target people who had innocently purchased equipment that might or might not be used to modify a weapon.

"Certainly we don't want to throw people in jail because they bought a couple of little springs and a few boxes of metal," he said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Cooney)

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