Proposed easing of concealed-weapons law draws fire
Published Monday, Mar. 23, 2009
What issue could unite a Republican lawmaker from Southern California and a 46-year-old lesbian from Natomas?
Guns, of course.
A bill introduced in the state Assembly last month aims to make it easier for Californians to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
Assembly Bill 357 – yes, the number is right – would change a state law that currently gives county sheriffs or chiefs of police final say in who can carry a gun.
By stripping the local law enforcement discretion, the bill would mandate that any Californian who passes a training course and demonstrates "good moral character" can tuck a pistol into his or her waistband.
Even though the bill won't be heard in committee for a few weeks, it has raised ire among law enforcement officials, including Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness. Police chiefs and sheriffs can be more effective at screening out people who shouldn't have concealed weapons, he said.
If the changes proposed by the bill were already in effect, even O.J. Simpson would have been eligible for a concealed weapons permit in California – prior to his recent felony conviction in Nevada, McGinness said.
But the aim of the bill is fairness, said the bill's author, Assemblyman Steven Knight of Palmdale. While some California counties are more liberal when it comes to issuing concealed weapons permits, others are "very strict, and they use that phrase 'good cause' to their benefit," Knight said.
In addition, Knight said, there's an inherent unfairness in deciding that some people's perceptions of danger are more valid than others. "Lots of judges in California get permits," he said. "Does (the state) have the same amount of regard for the safety of a liquor store owner or a jewelry store owner?"
Among supporters of Knight's bill is Deanna Sykes, co-founder of the Sacramento chapter of Pink Pistols, an international group that advocates gun ownership by gays and lesbians. Their slogan: "Armed gays don't get bashed."
"I think it's a benefit to society if the good guys have the ability to protect themselves," Sykes said.
Part of the mission of the Pink Pistols is to promote self-defense in the gay community, Sykes said.
"(Gun ownership) minimizes that idea that gays are defenseless," she said. "When someone thinks about bashing some (gays), they might stop because he might be more prepared to defend himself. … If you can convince them that you're not weaker because you have an equalizer, you might not get picked on."
McGinness said he was sympathetic to people concerned about their safety, but said a uniform approach isn't good for California. "Alpine County and Los Angeles County are vastly different," he said. "A one-size-fits-all is not in the best interest of public safety."
Lt. Mark Reed, who reviews concealed weapons applications in Placer County, said local law enforcement often recommend alternatives to carrying a gun. For example, he said, many people apply because they carry around lots of money as part of their job. "If they could use a courier service, that'd be safer. … If I can offer a safer alternative, it negates the 'good cause.'
Both McGinness and Reed said that in their counties, simply wanting to carry a concealed weapon isn't good-enough cause.
"Personal protection is insufficient," McGinness said.
Sykes believes a pistol tucked into her purse might be the only thing that keeps her from becoming a victim of an anti-gay hate crime.
But it's not like she's looking for a showdown, she said. Still, in an emergency, she said she'd like to know that her .45 is close at hand.
"I have a fire extinguisher under my sink for the same reason," she said.