His Object a Gentler L.A., a Councilman Buys Up AK-47s

updated 02/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

As opponents of gun control often point out, guns don't kill people—people do. But the right weapon can make killing easy. When Patrick Edward Purdy walked into a Stockton, Calif., schoolyard last month, he was carrying his own personal doomsday machine, a Chinese-made semiautomatic AK-47 rifle capable of firing about 40 rounds a minute. In four minutes, with all the terrible efficiency that the AK-47 is designed to promote, he had killed five children and wounded 29 others and one teacher.

Created by the Soviets and copied by the Chinese, the AK-47 is a favorite of communist guerrillas. It is also popular among gun enthusiasts from Beirut to L.A. Since 1985, 88,000 AK-47s and 102,000 Israeli-made Uzis have been imported into the U.S. Many are in the hands of collectors; others belong to those with less innocent motives. To Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, the AK-47 is, pure and simple, an instrument of terror. "There were 257 gang-related homicides in L.A. last year," says Holden. "Many of them were drive-by shootings with high-powered automatic weapons. I thought, 'Hey, let's see what I can do to get some of these guns off the street.' "

Spurred to action by the shootings in Stockton, Holden, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles this year, announced an unusual cash-for-guns offer. Drawing upon $50.000 in campaign funds, Holden promised to pay up to $300 for each AK-47 or Uzi surrendered to the L.A. police.

After one week the police had collected 65 assault rifles and Holden had received more than his money's worth in campaign publicity. But on the streets of L. A., at least one AK-47 owner vowed never to part with his weapon. "You want to give up your gun, go ahead," said an inner-city gang member. "Just don't be stupid enough to try and take mine. If I can't get an AK-47, I'll get an Uzi. No Uzi? There's lots and lots of shotguns."

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