L.A. council members look to tighten gun safety measures

Los Angeles lawmakers have been mulling new rules that would require residents to lock up their handguns or disable them with a trigger lock when they are not being used.

But the plan, championed by Councilman Paul Krekorian as a way to spare children from deadly accidents, has spurred unexpected opposition from the city police officers' union, which argues that retired officers shouldn't be held to those rules.

The proposed rules would exempt active-duty and reserve officers, but the Los Angeles Police Protective League says retired officers should be excluded as well, warning of possible dangers to former officers and their families.

In a letter to city lawmakers, the union argued that current and former officers needed quick access to guns for protection, citing the 2013 armed rampage by former LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner as an example of police and their families being targeted. Retired officers have gone through extensive training on controlling their weapons, union officials said.

"To protect themselves and society … you have to give them the ability to respond quickly," league Director Peter Repovich said.

Krekorian aides warned against changing the wording of the proposed rules, which are modeled on a San Francisco ordinance that has so far withstood a legal challenge from the National Rifle Assn. At a Friday hearing, L.A. Councilman Mitchell Englander suggested another possible amendment: lifting the storage requirements for those with a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Those permits can be granted to judges, current and retired officers and other applicants approved by local law enforcement officials. Englander, who is a reserve officer, said getting that permit involves an "extensive background search" and mandatory training.

His idea won support from Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former L.A. police officer. Buscaino said the ordinance should target "irresponsible gun owners" and said that the city should be sensitive to the concerns of retired officers because they could be targeted for investigations they had undertaken while on the force.

"Anyone who wears a badge — both present and in the past — are police," he said, adding, "I'm just looking at their personal safety."

But other members of the Public Safety Committee were uneasy with the idea of exempting retired officers and other concealed weapons permit holders from the proposed gun storage rules. Councilwoman Nury Martinez said she didn't understand why anyone wouldn't lock up or disable their gun.

"Isn't that just the responsible thing to do, as opposed to having to go to another child's funeral?" Martinez asked. "Whether you are a retired police officer or an on-duty police officer, I just think it's the responsible thing to do — to lock your firearm at home."

At the hearing, Councilman Mike Bonin said he also had misgivings about loosening the rules for anyone holding a concealed weapons permit, as Englander proposed. Bonin cited news accounts of a former Culver City police chief who he said gave out the permits "like candy," saying that he didn't trust the judgment of every police chief or sheriff in the state.

A revised version of the proposal — one that exempts concealed weapons permit holders — is expected to return to lawmakers for additional debate in about a month. Krekorian, who does not sit on the safety committee, issued a statement opposing the proposed change, saying it "would make the public less safe."

"It would destroy a reasonable and measured policy that is designed to save the lives of children and others who die far too often from irresponsibly stored handguns," Krekorian said.

The executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, a group that strongly backed the gun-storage proposal, said she was bewildered by the proposed exemption. "If you drive professionally for a living, does that exempt you from wearing a seat belt?" Margot Bennett asked.

It is unclear whether the police union will support the revised plan. Repovich said the proposed exemption for concealed weapons permit holders would cover retired officers, but the Los Angeles Police Protective League board would need to discuss it before taking a position.

In reaction to the L.A. proposal, the NRA said it opposes "government mandated storage regulations" such as those called for in the draft ordinance, with or without the proposed exemption. Spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the group promotes gun safety but believes that gun owners should be "free to choose the safe storage method that best suits their situation."

A law firm that represents the NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. warned council members that the proposal violates the U.S. Constitution's 2nd Amendment and contradicts state law. In a letter to lawmakers, Michel & Associates said it is still fighting the San Francisco ordinance and would pursue "immediate litigation" if L.A. passes similar rules.

"They would not be on the safe ground that they think they are," said Anna Barvir, an associate at the law firm.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

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