LOS ANGELES, NOV. 28 -- California gun owners who do not register their military assault weapons by Dec. 31 will, if caught, have to pay a fine and may face criminal charges on the second offense. A month before the deadline, only 5,150 of the estimated 300,000 such guns -- which include AK-47s, Uzis and 54 others specified in the law -- have been registered with the state Department of Justice.

While 300,000 is a conservative estimate, according to Richard Gardiner, director of state and local affairs for the National Rifle Association in Washington, most owners will not make the deadline and have no intention of trying.

"Most people who own them {assault weapons} are not going to register them because they think the law is unconstitutional, unnecessary and violates their rights as a citizen, and they're not going to pay attention to it," said Gardiner, who headed the NRA's fight against the state's assault weapons bill.

The NRA has not advised its members about registration of the guns. Gardiner said the association as well as assault gun owners remain "hopeful that the federal courts will strike the law down under constitutional grounds."

The May 1989 law stated that these military-style assault weapons could not be purchased after June 1, 1989, without a permit from the state Department of Justice, and gave owners who had bought such guns before that date 18 months to register them. Gun owners failing to register face a $350 fine and severe penalties on later offenses.

"The intent of the law was to remove those guns from this state over a period of time," said Robert Drake, bureau chief in the department's division of law enforcement. "It's very clear. It says it right in there . . . . That law stopped the sale of them in this state." However, he added, "What's here is here."

The state Department of Justice has received about 100 registration requests a week since the bill was signed. In September, when a federal court decision upheld the law as constitutional, registrations doubled.

Drake said registration has "held constant" at 200 a week since then. Drake does not expect a last-minute rush. "We can expect the number to get up to 6,000-7,000 at the most," he said.

State Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles), coauthor of the bill, said gun owners who do not register may in the long run hurt their cause and that of the NRA, which fought the law as unnecessary. "There goes their best argument, {which was} how could we pass such a law on honest, law-abiding citizens?" he said. Now, Roos said, "A law has been passed but those law-abiding citizens are only law-abiding when the law suits them."