Months before the California legislature passed the “Assault Weapon” Control Act of 1989, key administrators in the state’s Dept. of Criminal Justice (DOJ) concluded that military-style semi-automatic rifles were not a crime problem. This fact was revealed in recently obtained DOJ internal documents.
Government cover-up of the findings and recommendations of a key DOJ staffer came amidst calls by ban co-sponsor Sen. David Roberti for new amendments (since enacted by the legislature and, at this time, awaiting action by the governor — Editor) which broaden the ban to include entire series of firearms.
The controversy surrounds a memo by S.C. Helsley, then acting assistant director of the DOJ’s Investigation and Enforcement Branch. In the Oct. 31, 1988, memo, Helsley tackled the question of formulating legislation that would control “‘assault rifles’ without infringing on sporting weapons. I do not think,” he wrote, “that the necessary precision is possible.”
Helsley enumerated definitional problems, beginning with action type. “Weapons that must be manually reloaded do not seem to fit anyone’s description of an assault rifle, even though many have large-magazine capacities.”
Banning guns by caliber was also dismissed as impractical. “Commercially-available, assault-type weapons come in at least 30 different calibers from .22 rimfire to 12 gauge (75 caliber).”
The “high-capacity magazine” is commonly referred to as an “assault rifle” attribute and readily attacked by anti-gunners. This characterization is also debunked in the Helsley memo:
“[A] workable definition cannot be based on whether a detachable magazine is used … If we were to base the definition on magazine capacity alone at least one rifle used in the American Civil War would be affected …
“This all leads me to conclude that the only ‘practical’ regulatory approach would be to ban or license all semi-automatic weapons that can accept a detachable magazine which will hold more than five rounds (the legal limit for hunting in California). This approach would cover hundreds of different types of firearms of which in total tens of millions … have been produced … [including] not only the ‘Darth Vaderish’ UZI but also such unlikely threats to public safety as the 1893 Borchart [sic] 9 mm pistol/carbine (which bears a striking resemblance to the UZI) …”
“A war on assault rifles” is what the Helsley memo predicted-just months before that war broke out. The memo also outlined the “vulnerable flanks” of gun ban proponents.
“For many decades the federal government has been selling World War II era M-1 Garands and M-1 Carbines … at bargain basement prices … to encourage the growth of, and participation in, formal rifle matches …
“At more of a ‘gut’ level, a ban would deprive military veterans of souvenir war trophies and commemorative issue firearms … [And] we could expect [the National Rifle Association] to ask, ‘What’s the problem?’ Obviously, there have been some high visibility crimes which involved semi-automatic UZI’s and AK-47’s, but I suspect that a close analysis would put that frequency at or slightly above the statistical aberration level. Last year, I surveyed the firearms used in violent crimes … assault type firearms were the least of our worries.”
The 1988 document concludes that the reasoning behind a semi-auto ban “is supported by the same faulty logic that … created the threat that was allegedly posed by ‘copkiller bullets’ and ‘invisible plastic guns’ … we should leave the issue alone.”
Earlier this year, Helsley was asked by a senior DOJ official to send another memo, this time recreating “the process that resulted in the Roberti-Roos Act.”
Helsley recalls a December 1988 meeting in Oakland “with a number of law enforcement officers and prosecutors … to reinvigorate the push to achieve some level of assault weapon control.” The meeting resulted in a survey to assess the “assault weapon problem.” Few responded; the results, “not compelling.” The meeting also led to a definition of “what was not an assault weapon,” which became “the foundation for later ‘lists.’”
Helsley then recalls a January 1989 briefing of then Attorney General John Van de Kamp on what was (and was not) an assault weapon and what was (and was not) a crime problem. Van de Kamp said he would not support assault weapon legislation “unless hard data could be developed,” the Helsley memo states.
Days later the Purdy schoolyard shooting took place in Stockton. In late January Van de Kamp hosted a meeting involving Sen. Roberti and Assemblyman Roos, and “a number of ranking law enforcement administrators.” Helsley recalls the gun banners’ strategy:
“Sen. Roberti … emphasized the need to move quickly.
“Four weapons (AK 47, UZI, MAC, and the Street Sweeper) would be the focus of the legislation.
“It was agreed that certain weapons probably had too large a constituency to ever be worth the risk of including, i.e., Ruger Mini 14, Ml Carbine, Ml Garand, etc.
“Information on assault weapons would not be sought from forensic laboratories as it was unlikely to support the theses on which the legislation would be based.”
Helsley then described the frantic days of February.
“The original four gun [strategy] … was discarded.” Based on the December definition of what was not an assault rifle, Helsley’s staff compiled a list of guns “not covered by the exclusionary language … Roberti and Roos took different tacks with their bills [ while] the DOJ approach alternated-between language which listed ‘good’ semiautomatic weapons and banned everything else, and a ‘bad’ list which ‘blessed”’ all other firearms.
“As finally comprised,” Helsley recalls, “the list had become an odd collection of firearms which range from the long out of production, to the exorbitantly expensive, to the ‘evil’ AK 47.”
The Helsley memo then furnishes the recommendations of a key criminal justice administrator based on his two years of experience with semi-auto bans:
“A lot of people worked very hard to make the Roberti/Roos Act successful. Those with some knowledge of firearms felt the task was an impossibility. Those with little or no knowledge of the subject were ever emboldened. The more our staff has worked with the legislation the more confused they have become. How the average cop on the beat or Joe ‘Six Pack’ who owns one of the weapons will ever figure it all out escapes me. There is no simple fix … We can effectively control all semiautomatic weapons or leave them all alone. What I don’t think we cari accomplish is proper implementation of a vague and ambiguous law.”
The Helsley memo is proof that months before the law was enacted, key officials in California were briefed that there were problems in defining “assault rifles.” Moreover, the memo documents that state legislators, “certain law enforcement administrators” and the attorney general conspired to pass restrictive legislation, in part by deliberately avoiding “information … from forensic laboratories as it was unlikely to support the theses on which the legislation would be based.”
The impact of the California conspiracy is, of course, not confined to that state’s borders. It spread to New Jersey and is spreading across the nation. It is being pushed by anti-gun congressmen led by the House crime bill champions, U.S. Reps. Charles Schumer and Richard Gephardt, who are emboldened by the success of the California cover-up.
Source: Tom Wyld, American Rifleman