GUN POLITICS IN LA-The Los Angeles City Council passed a ban on large capacity bullet magazines this week. Judging by its members' breathless and repetitious speeches about their use in mass murders in Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and most recently in a military recruitment office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, they meant it.
Until they didn't quite mean it.
A large crowd poured into City Council chambers on Tuesday, with few exceptions, pleading for the ban. They included shooting victims who survived massacres, and family members of those who didn't.
One such survivor was Josh Stepakoff, who was only six years old in August 1999 when a white supremacist named Buford Furrow shot up the North Valley Jewish Community Center, wounding five adults and children, and shortly thereafter shooting and killing a postal worker.
After the public spoke, including a highly skilled competitive shooter who opposed the ban, the Councilmembers uniformly made their case for it, including a teary-eyed Nury Martinez and Paul Krekorian, who added that the ban would not grandfather-in previously purchased high-capacity bullet magazines. Within 60 days of it becoming a law, their owners would have to destroy them, turn them in to the LAPD or - odd and unwise as it might seem - sell them, presumably outside of city limits.
Then it was Councilmember Mitch Englander's turn to speak.
In a solemn, measured tone, Englander - an LAPD reserve officer - spoke of the 1994 gun murder of his uncle. Then, addressing Stepakoff, he said he grew up in, and now represents, the district in which the NVJCC is located, and how his daughters and Stepakoff attended some of the same schools growing up. But as one grows accustomed to with City Council, Englander made his move and proposed an exemption to the ban for former police officers who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Never mind that most, if not all, former police officers carry a handgun rather than an automatic or semi-automatic weapon, making the "public benefit" of such an exemption moot. Englander knows who butters his bread. The recently re-elected Councilmember already has his sights on a soon-to-be-vacated County Supervisor seat, and his campaign websites, past and present, are emblazoned with photos himself with law enforcement officers.
In the blink of an eye, the City Councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the ban for everyone in the city, and then without a word of debate, had a rare split vote of 8-4 to instruct City Attorney Mike Feuer to carve out the wording for Englander's former police officer exemption. Krekorian, Martinez, Paul Koretz and David Ryu voted against asking Feuer for an exemption, but made no effort to discuss its merits or to invite public comment on it.
That's because Englander knowingly introduced his amendment after public comment was heard, depriving the public of hearing the name Randolph Adair, a former LAPD detective who was arrested last week after his family turned him in as the serial bank robber known as the "Snowbird Bandit." There is no telling what Adair, who is believed to be one of Sirhan Sirhan's arresting officers, might have done if he had a high capacity bullet magazine knowing of his own imminent arrest’.
City Council might have also considered the terrifying 10 days in 2013 when a former LAPD officer named Christopher Dorner (photo right) went on a murderous shooting rampage that stretched across Southern California. Since no Councilmember bothered to raise the issue, we do not know if Feuer's wording would have given or prevented Dorner, an "involuntarily terminated" LAPD officer, access to such lethal magazines.
In fact, when police officers are involved in personal crises, they pose a particularly deadly risk to the public even with "just" their service weapon.
On June 5, 2009, LAPD detectives were about to arrest one of their own, Detective Stephanie Lazarus, for the decades-old murder of her former boyfriend's new wife. As detailed by the LAPD and an LA Times reporter at the 27:45 mark of this episode of "48 Hours," immense effort was made to disarm Lazarus from her city-issued weapon, a mere handg un prior, prior to arrest. But what if Lazarus knew the arrest was coming and had access to a large capacity bullet magazine?
Given a desperate personal circumstance, special training makes a police officer the last person who should have greater access to deadlier arms.
In fact, under the best of circumstances, even active law enforcement's weapons can be stolen and used to commit a murder. That was the case in San Francisco earlier this month when a federal agent's stolen firearm found its way into the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who used it to murder Kate Steinle.
After a standing ovation, City Councilmembers led by Krekorian marched outside of City Hall for a rally because, a cynic would say, that's where the TV reporters are, and that is what matters most to them rather than the details of their new law. What matters most to the public, whether they are for or against the ban and exemption, is that they think it through, gather public input and get it right. They should not "vote for it, in order to find out what's in it."
The wording of the proposed exemption, and a vote on it, is expected at City Council's August 4th meeting. As virtually all city officials are beholden to law enforcement, expect the exemption to pass. And expect finger pointing the first time it results in wrongful death.
(Daniel Guss is a writer who lives in Los Angeles.)