Law enforcement authorities have been unable to develop a profile of freeway gunners or establish a pattern for the violence that has plagued motorists this summer, California Highway Patrol Commissioner J. E. Smith testified Tuesday.
At a legislative hearing on proposals to crack down on highway shootings, Smith said that since June 18, when the shootings first drew news media attention, there have been 87 incidents statewide--78 of them on freeways--mostly in Southern California.
He told the Assembly Public Safety Committee that of those people arrested, law enforcement authorities have been unable to develop "any particular pattern or profile that would assist us in combatting the problem."
Smith said, however, that a "copycat phenomenon" apparently has developed after repeated instances of gunfire. He said authorities first suspected that hair-trigger tempers aggravated by traffic congestion may have been the cause, but this theory recently has been largely discarded as more incidents have occurred.
Smith said half of the shooting incidents developed from traffic altercations while the other half involved "absolutely no provocation" or there was "no indication of what might have been the cause." He told the committee that of the shooters arrested, "most are male and they are young."
The committee took brief testimony on two bills aimed at combatting highway shootings, but delayed action on them until next week.
One measure, by Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), would make it a felony, punishable by up to three years in state prison, to carry a handgun in the driver's compartment of a motor vehicle. It would require that the firearm be locked in the trunk, and if a trunk were not available, the weapon would have to be be kept in a locked container other than the glove compartment.
Currently, it is a misdemeanor for most persons to carry a concealed handgun or other concealed firearm in a vehicle. An openly displayed unloaded pistol or revolver currently is not against the law.
Margolin said the aim is to "keep guns out of the car" and send a message to those who illegally carry handguns in vehicles: "Drive with a gun, go to state prison."
He noted that the CHP has said, of 26 recent shooting incidents in Los Angeles County, 22 involved handguns. As for a suggestion by committee Chairman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego) that the proposed prohibition be extended to rifles and shotguns, Margolin said the problem this summer involved handguns--not long guns.
Noting expected opposition from the gun lobby, Margolin insisted it is "difficult enough to get a handgun measure through, given the traditional opponents who surface in the Legislature, without going out after an issue that is not an immediate problem." Margolin's bill is supported by Handgun Control Inc., a national organization opposed to concealable firearms.
Another bill, by Assemblyman Paul Zeltner (R-Lakewood), a former deputy sheriff, would provide a penalty of up to seven years in prison for anyone to who shoots a firearm or pellet gun from a vehicle. Currently, it is a misdemeanor to do so.
Under the bill, a vehicle could be seized if a firearm were shot from it and anyone convicted of discharging a gun from a vehicle would permanently lose his or her driving privilege.
In Los Angeles County, Supervisor Kenneth Hahn proposed a ban on carrying toy weapons in cars or trucks on freeways in the county's unincorporated areas. Hahn's motion also urges state legislation banning throughout California the sale of toy guns that are close replicas of authentic weapons.
Hahn's proposal follows a recent incident in which a youngster riding as a passenger in the family car pointed a toy gun at a police officer. The officer reported that he believed at first the weapon was real and that the incident could have resulted in disaster.