SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A study of California's weapons registration law found that blacks were far more likely to be charged with a felony than whites, who were more often charged with a misdemeanor for the same offense.
The study by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer prompted calls for changes from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the lawmaker who authored the legislation defended it.
The study examined data on how the law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2000, is being applied. The law makes it illegal for anyone to possess a gun who is not registered with the state as that firearm's owner. Offenders can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, a lesser count.
In 2003, less than 40 percent of whites faced felony charges under the law; more than 70 percent of blacks and nearly 70 percent of Hispanics were charged with felonies.
Black leaders seek change in law
"Blacks were proportionately most likely to be filed on at the felony level, followed by Hispanics, other race/ethnic groups, and whites. This pattern exists throughout the period shown," the report states.
The law's author, Democratic state Sen. Jack Scott, said he left in the option of a misdemeanor charge in the event an individual has a good excuse for possessing a weapon not registered to him _ for instance, if the weapon is properly registered in the name of a spouse or other close relative.
Scott noted many of those charged with felony possession of an illegal handgun also were charged with other felonies at the same time. "Perhaps more dangerous individuals are charged with a felony," he said.
Alice A. Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP, said her organization will work with the Legislature's black caucus to change the law or its enforcement.
"We know intuitively that we are being dealt with more harshly than whites. This just reinforces it," she said. The overall disparity is such that "I don't know what else it could be other than race," she said.
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