Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Gun Control

Collateral damage from Haley Barbour's pardons?

Haley BarbourA lot of spelunking remains to be done into former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's pardons, but if they prove to be arbitrary, insensitive or even illegal, there will be collateral damage, and not just in Mississippi. Barbour risks giving executive pardons an even worse name than they have now.

From Richard Nixon to Marc Rich, pardon recipients are often well connected. Even garden-variety recipients of clemency are, by definition, criminals, and thus not particularly attractive to the public. (The exception are those who were exonerated.) Presidents and governors know this, and tend to be too parsimonious in granting pardons and commutations.

Barbour hasn't helped himself, at least in the North,  by explaining that he wanted the beneficiaries of his clemency to be able to "find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote" (italics added). And the apparent failure to satisfy public-notice requirements suggests that the  process was rushed and slovenly. But it would be regrettable if "Boss Hogg" became the personification of the pardon power. 


Orange County's fix-it judge -- and his pastor

Mississippi pardons: Democrats bash Haley Barbour -- with glee

8 killers pardoned: Outgoing Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour under fire

--Michael McGough

Photo: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is seen on Sept. 28, 2010. Credit: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

More concealed guns for the Golden State?

Banana gun
In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the open carrying of handguns in public.

For several months before that, "open carry" proponents had been especially visible in the South Bay, making their 2nd Amendment point by packing heat in public on the beach and at a fair, among other places.

The sight made some people nervous, including the police; the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge, said police "felt strongly that 'open carry' is not safe and that someone could get hurt or worse."

California became the fifth state to ban open carry. Arizona, right next door, is an open-carry state, except where other laws restrict carrying weapons near schools or in parks.

The open-carry issue in California has an odd history. In 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited anyone from carrying a loaded gun in public. Yep, Ronald Reagan.

The back story of this is stunningly dramatic. The Black Panthers had become poster people for the 2nd Amendment. California law at the time allowed them -– and anyone else -- to carry long guns as long as they were in plain sight and not being aimed at anyone.

The Mulford Act, sponsored by a conservative Berkeley legislator named Don Mulford, was the Legislature’s response. And the Panthers’ response to the Legislature was this -- a group of armed Panthers, in berets and leather jackets and carrying their weapons, staged the PR coup of marching up the Capitol steps and into the Assembly. As I like to say, I imagine there wasn't a dry seat in the house.

Concealed weapons are another matter.

California counties issue concealed weapons permits. Some sheriffs, like Los Angeles' Lee Baca, approve very few, which ticks off gun advocates; onetime Orange County sheriff Michael Carona rewarded his supporters with concealed weapons permits.  After Carona was indicted on federal corruption charges and resigned -– he was convicted of felony witness tampering -- some of those concealed weapons permits were revoked by the new sheriff.

Now the secretary of state's office has announced that there's a petition ready to circulate in search of  half a million signatures to rearm Californians with concealed weapons.

If it gets on the ballot and passes, it could create a gunslinger's paradise, throwing out virtually all current requirements for getting a concealed weapons permit and letting almost anyone who's not under criminal investigation or indictment or restraining order carry a hidden gun.

Here's what the initiative would do, according to the secretary of state's website:

  • Eliminate good cause and good moral character requirements for license to carry concealed firearms.
  • Compel sheriffs and police chiefs to issue licenses to carry concealed firearms to any eligible applicant with no history of mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence, who is not currently under criminal investigation or indictment or currently subject of restraining order.
  • Eliminate sheriffs' and police chiefs' option to require applicants to complete up to 24 hours of firearms training, and prohibit them from imposing reasonable restrictions or conditions when issuing the firearms license.

Not even "reasonable restrictions or conditions." Not even a 10-minute course on gun safety. Ready, fire, aim.

Odds are this won't get on the ballot, but the collateral effect of social-issue ballot initiatives in big election years shouldn't go unnoticed. An anti-gay marriage measure on Ohio's 2004 ballot spiked conservative voter turnout and contributed to John Kerry losing the state to George W. Bush.

And in 1982, Los Angeles' Democratic mayor, Tom Bradley, unexpectedly lost a squeaker of a governor's race to Republican Atty. Gen. George Deukmejian. Some analysts now think that -- whatever may have been a closet race vote against a black man trying to become governor, now known as the "Bradley Effect" -- the conservative turnout against a handgun control initiative generated the losing margin for Bradley.

Proposition 15 –- which Bradley, the former cop, endorsed -– would have required some handgun registration and limited handgun purchases. It lost -– and so did Bradley.


Gun control that won't

Guns and states' rights

Gun safety, Texas-style

Open carry: Would-be Yosemite Sams are shot down

Cartoon: Why state legislators needn't carry concealed weapons

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Tammy Cude of San Pedro wears a banana in her gun holster as she passes a Redondo Beach police officer while participating in an "open carry" event at Redondo Beach Pier in August 2010. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

Ready, aim, fire: It's been that kind of news cycle

MythBusters mishap

It's been kind of a "loose cannons" month.

First, everyone was all a-Twitter this week about Alec Baldwin being removed from an American Airlines flight. The actor apparently became surly after being asked to turn off his cellphone.  

It's not clear how it will all end, but the whole episode gives credence to the idea that Twitter is remarkably useful -- if your goal is to shoot yourself in the foot.    

And speaking of shooting, those wacky "MythBusters" guys, er, misfired Tuesday.  Testing something about cannons and alternative cannonballs, they shot something. That something went through one house, hit the roof of another house, skipped across a road and smashed a minivan's window.

I'm guessing if you want more info, you may want to check the Twitter accounts of the show's stars.

Closer to home, a guy in Pasadena who was upset about not having power after last week's windstorm allegedly threatened to kill city workers if they didn't turn the juice back on.

This followed an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting at which members expressed annoyance at how long it was taking Southern California Edison to restore power. 

Now, I'm not defending Edison. But politicians need to be careful about throwing stones.  After all, you'll recall that the L.A. City Council has been pondering for six years now how to fix L.A.'s broken sidewalks.

And then, of course, there's San Fernando Mayor Mario Hernandez, who recently announced at a City Council meeting that he was having an affair with a colleague, Councilwoman Maribel de la Torre. And oh, by the way, his wife was sitting in the audience. (Please, please, don't let Hernandez anywhere near Twitter.)

Plus there's our old buddy Rod Blagojevich. The former Illinois governor got 14 years in the big house Wednesday.  His crimes? Trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat, illegal shakedowns for campaign cash and lying to federal agents. (Plus -- or so he told the judge before sentencing -- he was a bad dad and husband.  But he was really, really sorry.)

But the most ironic "loose cannon" news came from Florida.

Seems that the state's Republican-dominated Legislature has passed a law making it easier for people to carry guns in the Capitol.  Which could be a problem. 

As the story explained, in the bad old days, those charged with protecting the politicians and their staff used, uh, common sense:

Security officials used to ask holders of concealed weapons to put their guns in a lockbox when entering the Capitol, according to Michael C. Bender of the Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee bureau. If a gun owner refused, he or she was tailed by a guard.

Under the new law, Capitol police no longer request that weapons be stored in a lockbox. Nor do they notify the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate when someone is carrying a gun, as they did previously.

So, in what Democrats who opposed the law are calling a very interesting coincidence, panic buttons have been installed on the phone of every state senator and staffer. 

To which all I can say is, let's hope the power stays on in Florida.


Goldberg: Gingrich the compassionate

Steven Howards and the limits of free speech

Florida lawmaker calls for firing squads, electric chair

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: A Dublin, Calif., police officer stands near the exit hole of a cannonball in a second-story wall after it traveled through a home in the city Tuesday. Credit: Doug Duran / Bay Area News Group

Targeting Obama gun nuts, all 13 of them [Video]

A Texas firearms instructor is an Internet celebrity because of a radio ad in which he declares: "If you are a socialist liberal and/or voted for the current campaigner in chief, please do not take this class. You've already proven that you cannot make a knowledgeable and prudent decision as required under the law. Also, if you are a non-Christian Arab or Muslim, I will not teach you this class. Once again, with no shame, I am Crockett Keller."

The ad is simultaneously outrageous and amusing. The biggest joke on Keller is that the number of Obamaites who would want to take shooting lessons from him or anybody else is probably pretty small, making this a "you can't fire me; I quit" situation.



Gun safety, Texas-style

Gun control that won't

Threatening Obama: The high price of free speech

Open carry: Would-be Yosemite Sams are shot down

--Michael McGough

Open carry: Would-be Yosemite Sams are shot down

Opencarry The slogan can be found under a banner headline on the opencarry.org website: "A Right Unexercised is a Right Lost." Except that if the right is one that never should have existed to begin with, the opposite can and will prove true, as it just did in California.

Last year, packs of armed yahoos who believe society would be safer if everybody were packing heat started showing up in groups at Starbucks coffee shops and California beaches. At that time, it was legal under state law (though not under some city and county laws) to openly carry an unloaded firearm. But the exercise of this misguided right to terrorize the public had a predictable result: Angry parents and others complained to lawmakers, who passed a bill outlawing open carry that was signed Monday morning by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Proponents of open carry now have to face the fact that, if they had left well enough alone and kept their guns at home, open carry would still be legal in California and few people would have noticed. Seldom has a protest movement (or was it a solidarity movement?) backfired so spectacularly.

For the record, it's currently legal to flip off a cop. But an organized campaign to do so couldn't possibly end well.


Hold your fire, legislators

Gun control: New York does it better

The 11th Commandment: Thou shalt bring guns to church

Cartoon: Why state legislators needn't carry concealed weapons

-- Dan Turner

Photo: Tammy Cude of San Pedro wears a banana in her holster at an open carry event last year on the Redondo Beach Pier, where openly carrying even unloaded guns was forbidden. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

Anders Behring Breivik got his ammo ... here

Anders Behring Breivik

As it turns out. Anders Behring Breivik decided to "buy American" for the ammo he used to allegedly kill 78 people in Norway.

He wrote in his 1,500-page manifesto about going to a U.S. supplier to buy 10 30-round clips for his .223-caliber rifle, according to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenpost. In Norway, you can't buy a hunting rifle clip with more than three bullets; Breivik wrote that although he could have bought the larger clips from Sweden, they would have cost him a lot more than the $550 he did end up spending to purchase the 10 clips from the U.S. supplier. The math works out to under two bucks a bullet.

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy has already asked Congress to restrict the size of high-capacity clips. Her husband was shot to death and her son severely wounded in 1993 rampage aboard a Long Island Railway train by a gunman who carried four 15-round clips.

"There should be a lot of shame" attached to Breivik's purchase, McCarthy told Politico. "We're sending a death warrant to other parts of the world. Unfortunately now, internationally, it's known that you can get here, buy your guys, buy your large magazines, and you’re not going to have any problem.’’

So, for extra credit: What other notorious mail-order arms/ammo purchase comes to mind?

Anyone? Anyone?

Yes, you in the third row –-

Right. Lee Harvey Oswald. About eight months before the JFK assassination in Dallas, Oswald ordered what's become known as the Mannlicher-Carcano. The rifle was advertised as an Italian carbine in the February issue of American Rifleman magazine in an ad headlined "Too Late For Hunting Season  --Klein's Loss Is Your Gain." With the telescopic sight attached, it cost Oswald $19.95, plus $1.50 postage and handling.


Seeds of terror in Norway

Rutten: The maniac challenge

Norway attacks: Terror from the right

Norway attacks: The Breivik-McVeigh connection

Norway massacre: Is there any explanation? [The conversation]

-- Patt Morrison 

Photo: Anders Behring Breivik, the man accused of a killing spree and bomb attack in Norway, sits in the rear of a vehicle as he is transported in a police convoy in Oslo. Credit: Reuters

Gun control: New reporting requirements come under fire

ATF and Gun Control

It didn't take long for the fight to begin. Republicans in Congress are angry over a temporary new rule that would require gun dealers to report multiple sales of semiautomatic weapons.

Just one day after the new rule was announced, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriation bill to pull funding from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The new rule, which does not need congressional approval, would require about 8,500 gun dealers in four states along the border with Mexico to report multiple sales of semiautomatic weapons made within five days to the ATF. Similar reporting rules already exist for handguns.

The ATF rule won't impose any new restrictions on gun owners, who are still free to purchase guns. It will, however, require dealers to notify the agency.

On his website, Rehberg vowed to defeat the regulation, adding it was illegal and intended to create a national gun registry.

"Whether it's a new gun control law or a new gun control regulation, I will continue protect our Second Amendment rights from all efforts to undermine them," Rehberg wrote.

The Obama administration is promoting the rule as a way to combat the illegal flow of guns into Mexico.

The ATF seems to be in a tough position right now. A House investigation is currently looking into Fast and Furious, an operation intended to track straw purchases of guns back to drug cartels and gangs in Mexico. The ATF allowed the illegal purchases to be made but then lost track of many of the weapons. At least one of the guns turned up at the crime scene where a federal agent was shot to death.

The fight over the plan is just beginning, so stay tuned.


Gun control at the border

Amid Fast and Furious probe, Democrats push new gun control bill

--Sandra Hernandez

Photo: Mexican federal police stand next to seized weapons, including AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, during a presentation of members of the Zetas criminal organization and drug gang in May. Credit: Jorge Dan Lopez / Reuters

Threatening Obama: The high price of free speech

Walter Bagdasarian won his case on appeal. If you shoot the president, you're an assassin. 

If you shoot your mouth off online, saying the president "will have a 50 cal in the head soon" and that someone should "shoot the [racist slur]" -- and you own .50-caliber weapons and ammunition -– you're exercising your right to freedom of speech.

At least, that's what a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a case involving a Southern California man who made those online comments about Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. As The Times reported:

The decision overturns the conviction of Walter Bagdasarian of La Mesa, northeast of San Diego, who was found guilty two years ago by a federal judge in San Diego of violating a statute prohibiting threats to kill, kidnap or do bodily harm to a major presidential candidate. ...

Bagdasarian, writing under the anonymous Internet identity of "Californiaradial," posted the comments on a Yahoo.com financial site on Oct. 22, 2008, when Obama's campaign for the White House was ascendant.

It's an interesting time for the 1st Amendment. On Tuesday, attorney Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, writing about Britain's phone-hacking tabloid scandal, argued in an Op-Ed article that tabloid journalists in the United States are being sheltered by a justice system too beholden to the 1st Amendment.

Although the law provides us with the tools we need to punish crimes related to free speech, the judicial system is too quick to bow before the 1st Amendment, and as a result we end up shielding criminals who misrepresent themselves as journalists and activists. ...

Crime is crime. Tabloid journalism uses illegal tactics, and it does not deserve absolute protection from the 1st Amendment.

It's remarkable how inconvenient the law can be at times, isn't it? Free speech and freedom of the press are cornerstones of our democracy. We've fought wars for them.

But on a practical level, it's a very thin line between Bagdasarian's free speech and the guy who doesn't just spew threats online but actually carries them out.

And freedom of the press can protect journalistic excesses such as those being exposed in Britain. 

Personally, the ruling in Bagdasarian's case makes me uneasy. How many tragic shootings have we had in recent years in which the online warning signs were there but were missed?  Won't this ruling make it even harder to protect the president?

I'm also not a big fan of the National Rifle Assn.'s view of the 2nd Amendment, especially when it means someone like Bagdasarian has access to high-powered weaponry.

Then again, personally, as a journalist, Shapiro's argument on freedom of the press also makes me uneasy.

Which is why, in the end, I'm sticking with the Constitution. It protects Bagdasarian's right to say terrible things. It protects his right to own a gun.

And it protects my right to do my job.  


Rutten: America's Murdoch problem

U.S. Supreme Court again rejects most decisions by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Walter Bagdasarian's conviction was overturned by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Credit: Fox5SanDiego.com

Cartoon: Why state legislators needn't carry concealed weapons

Ted Rall / For the Times



Hold your fire, legislators


Cartoon: 20% of Californians had trouble affording food in 2010

California is broke, but taxing the rich is out of the question

Animated cartoon: 'Black presidents don't lie,' says Disposable Dan

Animated cartoon: 'Disposable Dan' tries to save his home while wife eats cat food

Animated cartoon: Meet 'Disposable Dan,' casualty of corporate greed and the economic collapse

Gun control: New York does it better

Jared Loughner Could the Tucson shooting rampage been avoided had Arizona made it harder for would-be gun owners to get a pistol permit? Maybe. Robert Spitzer, political scientist and author of "The Politics of Gun Control," joined Terry Gross for Thursday's episode of NPR's "Fresh Air" to explain.

"Mental health information is gathered on a state-by-state basis, and state practices vary widely. So in the state of Arizona, [accused killer] Jared Loughner didn't need to get a permit at all to get a handgun, and the only real requirement he had to fulfill was the federal requirement of a background check through the federal provision enacted as the Brady Law back in 1993. His name was not already on a list in the federal data bank, so his name was not rejected for the handgun purchase he made last November. Even though it was clear that he had mental problems, nobody in his family or the college where he has been attending had actually taken formal steps, nor the local police, to actually get a judge to actually say, 'This man is mentally incompetent and should undergo treatment.'"

Now, if Loughner lived in New York, there's a very good chance he wouldn't have been able buy a gun, legally at least. Spitzer continued:

"I would also make the comparison between a state like Arizona and a state like New York state. In New York state, when citizens apply for a pistol permit in order to then purchase a handgun legally, the state of New York asks for quite a bit more information. They ask for four character references, and the permit applicant needs to go before a local judge and say, 'This is why I would like to have a handgun,' before they can get the OK to do it. And in that more lengthy and detailed process, including the process of interviewing and consulting with character references; had Mr. Loughner lived in New York state, it's abundantly clear he would not have been able to get a permit."

That certainly seems like a more responsible approach. One flaw, however, is that if you make it too hard for people to get a gun, they may just take their exasperated selves to the black market, where it's not only easy to buy a weapon, but it's possible to have the barrel of the gun cut up (like one might take a razor blade to their fingertips) so that the weapon and the bullets become untraceable. Or they could just buy a used gun at a gun show.


The 11th Commandment: Thou shalt bring guns to church

Gun regulation: A better memorial for Tucson victims

In editorial cartoons, the weapons depicted just get bigger and more powerful

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Arizona massacre suspect Jared Lee Loughner. Credit: HO / AFP/Getty Images



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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