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“We are judged by our actions, not by our words.” -- Billy Jack (More Quotes)

More (People) Now Carry Guns

Los Angeles Times

As security fears increase, police and sheriffs have issued 28% more permits for concealed weapons statewide since 2000.

By Daryl Kelley
Times Staff Writer

July 19, 2004

The number of California residents who can legally carry a gun has surged 28% since 2000, reaching the highest level in decades following a spike in applications after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, new state figures show.

California sheriffs and police chiefs had issued more than 45,000 concealed weapon permits by the end of 2003, up about 10,000 in three years, including steep increases in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, according to the state Department of Justice.

Of California's 58 counties, only Yolo had a decline in weapon permits after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington.

"There was a big spike after 9/11, where people felt they should protect themselves better," said San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod, who granted nearly 500 new permits in 2001 and 2002. "And if a responsible citizen feels they need a gun and can demonstrate that need, I don't have any problem in giving it to them."

California law allows police agencies to grant concealed weapon permits for "good cause" if residents have clean criminal and mental health records and pass a basic firearms course. "Good cause" is determined by the police agencies.

Of the state's nine counties with more than 1 million people, San Bernardino had the highest rate of concealed weapon permits last year. Its 2,575 licenses equate to nearly 1.4 permits per 1,000 residents compared with a statewide norm of 1.25.

Rural Modoc County in the northeast corner had the state's highest rate of licensees: 35 per 1,000. Kern County issued the most permits, more than 4,300. San Francisco County had the lowest number, with 10 permits.

Indeed, the rate of people who legally carry weapons on their bodies, in their purses or in their cars was generally lower in big cities, where police chiefs want the streets free of firearms. But it was high in the state's rural north and east, where the closest law enforcement officer is often many miles away. "People here feel it's their right to carry weapons, and I support them," said Sheriff Jim Pope of Shasta County, which last year had 3,361 permits, second highest in the state. "As sheriffs, we're kind of the mop-up behind people."

The comments of Pope and Penrod reflect one side of a nationwide debate about whether properly trained, law-abiding residents should have the right to carry weapons. In an increasing trend, 35 states have passed "shall carry" or "right-to-carry" laws that allow most residents to get weapon permits, although only a fraction of those who qualify apply.

Since 1996, academic studies have reached contradictory findings on whether violent crime falls when more people are allowed to carry weapons. Some concluded it did, others said it didn't. Law enforcement officials in California split along the same lines.

In Los Angeles County, the number of concealed weapon permits increased from 874 to 1,391 in three years, despite strict policies by the sheriff and Los Angeles police. The increase is attributed to higher rates in jurisdictions such as Culver City, El Monte, Palos Verdes Estates and San Fernando.

"With 10 million people and our demographics, the population is not one that would lend itself to all our citizens being armed and feeling safe about it," said Los Angeles County Undersheriff William Stonich.

That is why Sheriff Lee Baca has approved only 377 permits, in addition to nearly 500 for the county's reserve deputies, Stonich said. Of those 377, about three-fourths are held by judges, prosecutors, public defenders and retired federal agents. Only about 100 licensees are residents without law enforcement credentials, he said.

Baca and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton require applicants to prove a severe danger to themselves or their families that police cannot adequately address and that would be lessened by carrying a gun.

Sheriff's licensees include public officials, corporate executives, doctors, clergy, a USC professor, a garbage company boss, a casino operator, a Palmdale homemaker and a rabbi who heads a prominent Jewish organization.

Veteran Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub has a license, as do "Lethal Weapon" director Richard Donner, action movie actor Steven Seagal and entertainer James Darren. Seagal testified against New York organized crime members in 2003.

Three Lancaster officials — Mayor Frank Roberts, recently retired City Manager James Gilley and Assistant City Manager Dennis Davenport — held permits, the sheriff reported. They did not return calls to discuss why they need to carry guns.

Former Long Beach City Manager James Hankla, whose permit expired last month, said he no longer needed to carry a gun. "While I was still a city manager, there were situations where I felt I had to be prepared to defend myself," he said. "You can go through a [city] agenda on a weekly basis and find enough topics that could cause folks to be unhappy."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a longtime reserve police officer and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, also felt directly threatened and was granted a weapons permit, spokesman Tony Bell said.

Bratton has continued the restrictive policies of previous chiefs since his appointment in 2002, and only 22 permits are now outstanding, the department reports.

"Anything that puts guns on the street is not something he would support," police spokesman Lt. Art Miller said.

Los Angeles' policy was so restrictive in the early 1990s that a group of residents sued and gained a settlement that led to a couple of hundred permits, said plaintiff David Yochelson, an attorney.

Yochelson, chairman of a committee set up to screen applicants, holds one of the city's few gun permits, as do three others involved in the old lawsuit. But he said the city has since reverted to past ways and has been sued again.

"We're still fighting and still very disappointed that law-abiding citizens can't protect themselves lawfully," he said.

Yochelson cites a Hollywood Hills defense attorney, whose throat was cut, as a classic example of a resident who was threatened but could not get a gun permit until he survived an attack.

But some officials who favor tight weapon policies cite the case of actor Robert Blake, who is charged with using a handgun to kill his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. At the time of the slaying in 2001, Blake held a concealed weapon permit from Culver City, where then-Chief Ted Cooke was known for issuing permits to celebrities and out-of-town applicants.

"I've never had a problem with someone misusing a gun," Cooke said when he retired last year. Culver City had 210 permits in 2003, and its per capita rate exceeded all other cities in Los Angeles County.

"We've tightened up this year; each chief establishes what is good cause," said Police Lt. Ed Baughan, who estimated that Culver City now has 170 permits. "But we wouldn't hesitate to issue one to someone who has a stalker issue, even though the stalker hadn't made a death threat."

State law changed in 1999, allowing police chiefs to issue permits only to residents in their jurisdictions. Permits dropped by more than 5,000 that year, but quickly rebounded and have risen sharply since then, even in counties with reputations for strict weapon policies.

New sheriffs in Orange and Ventura counties, for example, have issued far more permits in recent years.

During his campaign for office in 1998, Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona called for issuing more weapon permits to people who transport large sums of money or other valuables. By the end of his first year, Carona had signed off on 482 permits, compared with 308 the previous year by his predecessor, Brad Gates.

The numbers have continued to rise. State figures show weapon permits for all Orange County jurisdictions increased from 571 in 2000 to 1,225 last year, with the Sheriff's Department accounting for the bulk of the licenses.

In Ventura County, which had 348 permits when Sheriff Bob Brooks took office in 1998, licenses had climbed to 715 by last year, the state reported.

Brooks believes extra permits make his county — already the safest urban area in the West — even safer, because only upstanding residents receive permits. He cited Texas, Florida and Arizona where, he said, liberalized gun-carrying policies have led to less violent crime.

"We've never had a problem with misuse, and we have had cases where someone would have been victimized if they had not been able to defend themselves," Brooks said. "Just the appearance of the sidearm was enough to stop the attacks."

He didn't set out to increase the number of permits, Brooks said, but when people with good character and a need for a weapon applied, he was happy to comply.

"The trend that was really noticeable was after Sept. 11," he said. "People were really more concerned about their safety."

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