Arbitrary System Rules Granting of Permits for Guns

Times Staff Writer

Funny man Norm Crosby was scared. More and more, it seemed, people with expensive cars were getting mugged in Los Angeles. Since he drives a Rolls-Royce, the star of Natural Light beer commercials figured he needed personal protection.

After meeting some sheriff’s officials at a celebrity golf tournament and expressing his fears to them, Crosby applied to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for a concealed weapons permit. “Mr. Malaprop,” as Crosby is known in show-biz, can now go legally armed anywhere in California.

Crosby was among nearly 100 people who got permission last year from the Sheriff’s Department to carry guns for self-protection. It is a privilege frequently accorded celebrities, judges, financiers and influential businessmen, The Times found in reviewing gun permits throughout the county.

It is also a privilege accorded through an often arbitrary system in which a person wanting a gun permit can be turned down without explanation by the police chief in his community yet get the same permit--good statewide--from the sheriff or a more sympathetic chief across town.


And, while authorities insist that an applicant must be in real danger and well trained in firearms before being given a gun permit, there are examples of armed citizens whose meeting of those standards is questionable.

That is not to say that local authorities are lax when issuing concealed weapons permits. While law enforcement agencies in several of California’s less populated counties give them out by the thousands, only 362 people among the 8.6 million living in Los Angeles County were granted concealed weapons permits last year, according to the California attorney general’s office.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Police Department, the largest of 78 local law enforcement agencies in the county, issued no permits last year and has not since the Police Commission took over that function in the early 1970s.

“There is such a crazy patchwork of giving permits and not giving permits, depending on the city or county in which you live,” said the commission’s executive secretary, William Cowdin, “that this board is saying the state should come up with a law that preempts the cities and counties.”


There is legislation pending in Sacramento to do that. The bill would make it easier for many in California to legally carry a gun.

With gun permits having come under increased scrutiny in recent years--a 1986 California Supreme Court decision made the names of permit holders open to public inspection--the heads of most police agencies in Los Angeles County have issued fewer and fewer of them. Including the LAPD, 49 departments in the county did not issue gun permits in 1988.

Sheriff Sherman Block and Culver City Police Chief Elwin E. (Ted) Cooke, meanwhile, have bucked the trend. Cooke last year handed out 98 permits, more than any other chief in the county. Block has more than doubled the number of permits given out annually since 1985. Last year, 162 citizens applied to the sheriff for gun permits; 92 were granted.

Of those, 40 belong to court commissioners and judges, some of whom keep their guns under their robes while on the bench.

“With all the nuts on parade in and out of here every day, it’s only a matter of time before one of them tries something stupid,” said a municipal judge who keeps a revolver holstered on his belt when court is in session. “I’d hate to use it, but it’s there if I need to.”

Among those with permits from Culver City are singer Sammy Davis Jr., KTLA news anchorman Hal Fishman, former heavyweight boxer Ken Norton, former Los Angeles Herald Examiner publisher George R. Hearst Jr., and former California Federal Savings head George P. Rutland Jr., none of whom, by the way, lives in Culver City.

MGM financier Kirk Kerkorian, whose offices are around the corner from Culver City police headquarters, also has a gun permit.

Those with guns permits from the Sheriff’s Department include entertainers Buddy Hackett and Danny Thomas; Jacqueline E. Autry, the wife of California Angels owner Gene Autry; Sanford M. Shapero, head of City of Hope hospital; Beverly Hills banker William Belzberg, and Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro), a former sheriff’s reserve officer.


Ronald Reagan once had a gun permit from the Sheriff’s Department as well. Reagan held it for two years just before being elected to the White House, when he lived in Pacific Palisades.

“He called us up and said he was concerned about safety when he and Nancy would go up to the ranch,” said a sheriff’s official who asked not to be identified. “He said there was a lonely stretch of highway leading up there and he just wasn’t comfortable on it. We gave him the permit.”

Reagan, as with most current permit holders identified in this story, declined to be interviewed.

Under a 1953 California law, a person does not need a gun permit to keep a weapon at home, but does need a permit to carry a weapon in public “in a concealable fashion” or in a car.

Any police chief or sheriff can grant these relatively inexpensive permits. The state Department of Justice requires a $23.75 filing fee; most police agencies also charge a small fee, usually less than $5.

Given as Favors

In some counties, sheriffs have given out weapons permits as favors to political supporters and campaign contributors. A check by The Times in 1983 of San Diego County records, for example, found that of 300 people who had contributed to Sheriff John Duffy’s re-election campaign, 56 had been given permits. In all, Duffy issued more than 3,000 gun permits that year.

By contrast, Sheriff Block said that he has turned down many campaign contributors who wanted to carry guns. Records show, however, that a few of Block’s financial supporters have received permission to carry weapons.


Movie producer Jerry Weintraub is among them. Weintraub (“Karate Kid,” “Diner”) gave Block a $5,000 no-interest campaign loan in April, 1981, when Block kicked off his sheriff’s campaign, records show. When Block sought reelection in 1986, Weintraub and his wife contributed another $2,500.

The two men are social acquaintances and share family ties of sorts: Block’s second cousin is married to the president of the Weintraub Entertainment Group.

Sheriff’s files show that on Dec. 6, 1988, Block issued Weintraub a permit to carry two .38-caliber revolvers. The day earlier an irate attorney had stormed into Weintraub’s West Los Angeles offices and allegedly threatened him.

Within four weeks of getting the permit, Weintraub forgave the 1981 loan he had made to Block, without the sheriff having to repay a dime, according to campaign records.

Block said it was “purely coincidental” that Weintraub erased an 8-year-old loan so soon after getting a concealed weapons permit and denied there was anything untoward. He explained that Weintraub was able to get a permit so quickly because he had one before, but had let it lapse.

The sheriff’s campaign treasurer, Julius Glazer, said that the loan was originally intended as a political contribution, and that Block asked Weintraub to erase it in December only because campaign laws precluded it from being carried over to 1989.

Block and other authorities stressed that a person’s job or stature in the community do not necessarily better the chances of getting a permit and records confirm that. The sheriff, Culver City’s Cooke and other police chiefs have given concealed weapons permits to more than just the privileged. Dentists, pharmacists, liquor store operators, a stunt man, a nurse and a welder are among those permitted to carry guns.

The sheriff conceded, however, that those in the public eye are more often the targets of threats and, as such, may request a permit to carry a gun.

Entertainer Cited

Sammy Davis Jr., for example, not only has a gun permit, but a bodyguard and a guard at the gate of his mansion. Davis got his weapons permit from Culver City, even though he lives in Beverly Hills where only three people--a reserve police officer, a divorce attorney and City Manager Edward Kreins--were issued gun permits last year.

Davis’ publicist, Arnold Lipsman, said of his client’s permit: “It’s just something he has for his own protection. Sammy has so many things going for him that people can hate, being a black Jew, and I guess you can find people who don’t like people with one eye, too.”

There are people who do not like acerbic comedian Buddy Hackett, either, which is why he too, has a gun permit.

Hackett, who lives in Malibu, is authorized by the sheriff to carry four different guns--a .38 revolver and three semi-automatic pistols. An avid gun collector, Hackett was once a reserve policeman in New Jersey, Block pointed out.

The Sheriff’s Department policy on issuing concealed gun permits requires that an applicant be a resident of the county and provide “convincing evidence of a clear and present danger” which “cannot be reasonably avoided by alternative measures.”

Further, a person must have a certificate showing he has received at least 24 hours of firearms training from an approved academy, or demonstrate “alternative proof of firearms proficiency.”

The sheriff’s requirements, however, are not always as stringent as they may seem. Consider Norm Crosby.

Crosby said that he wanted a gun permit not because he had been threatened, but rather “because I started to read about people getting mugged in Beverly Hills and I had a Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce. . . . I drove it like my regular car. I didn’t have another (car) to play with.”

Crosby said he demonstrated proof of firearms proficiency by bringing in the gun he wanted to carry--his permit lists a 6.5-millimeter semiautomatic pistol--and showing that “I knew how to take it apart and clean it.” He never had to fire the gun for sheriff’s officials, he said.

The only firearms training the comedian said he has ever had was while serving in the Coast Guard during World War II.

“What’s the difference?” Block, a World War II Army veteran, said when asked about Crosby’s weapons training.

Crosby said that he has rarely taken his gun with him, and only to places where was concerned about safety, such as the Forum and Dodger Stadium.

“If I go to the ballpark and then go see (Dodger manager) Tommy Lasorda in his office, by the time I get out in the parking lot, it’s very late and dark,” Crosby explained. “These guys aren’t looking for plumbers and butchers when they’re out to rob people, you know.”

Channel 5 anchorman Hal Fishman decided he needed a gun permit for the same reason.

Like Crosby, Fishman had not received any direct threats, but said he became fearful for his safety in 1983 after KABC-TV anchorman Jerry Dunphy was shot and wounded while driving his Rolls-Royce in Hollywood. Soon after that, the office of a local television sportscaster was hit inexplicably by gunfire, according to Fishman.

“I then figured,” he said, “that since I am a news anchorman and I do write and deliver my own personal commentaries--which of course involve major issues of the day and can be highly controversial--that combining those facts, I felt extra protection was necessary.”

Fishman, who lives in Los Angeles, knew that the LAPD routinely turns down requests for concealed weapons permits so he went instead to Culver City “where they review these requests on a rational basis.”

Culver City’s Chief Cooke would not discuss Fishman’s permit nor any others he has issued. Cooke would not discuss the department’s policies on gun permits, or how many applicants have been turned down.

“It seems clear to me that the issuance of a (gun) permit in appropriate cases is an obligation of this office,” Cooke said, limiting his comments to a brief, prepared statement. “My intentions are to be consistent, fair and understanding.”

Many police chiefs are not so magnanimous. Even though California court cases have held that officials must consider each application rather than routinely dismissing them, some agencies, like the LAPD, simply reject all applications on grounds that to accept even one would contribute to a proliferation of weaponry on the streets.

A bill by state Assemblyman Richard Floyd (D-Gardena) would change that. Tired of listening to merchants in his district complain that they cannot get gun permits to protect their businesses, Floyd has sponsored legislation that would require police chiefs to issue a permit to anyone in their jurisdictions meeting certain basic requirements.

“There’s a guy in my district, a tire dealer who is a law-abiding citizen, whose shop is right near the highway--convenient for robbers--and he can’t get a permit to protect himself,” Floyd said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Floyd said his bill would require the sheriff or a police chief to issue a gun permit to anyone without a criminal record who has received formal firearms training.

“This is not an issue of guns on the streets,” he said, “it’s about legitimate, law-abiding citizens having the right to protect themselves.”

Floyd said he doubts the bill will pass muster in the Assembly, given the controversy these days over semiautomatic weapons. “It’s an idea,” he admitted, “whose time has not come.”


Concealed weapon permits are granted through an often arbitrary system in which a person seeking a permit can be turned down without explanation by the police chief in his community yet get the same permit--good statewide--from the sheriff or a more sympathetic chief nearby. Los Angeles Co. Sheriff 92 Alhambra 1 Arcadia: 1 Azusa: 1 Baldwin Park: 0 Bell: 1 Bell Gardens: 0 Beverly Hills: 1 Burbank: 2 Claremont: 0 Compton: 0 Covina: 0 Culver City: 98 Downey: 2 El Monte: 14 El Segundo: 0 Gardena: 0 Glendale: 2 Glendora: 1 Hawthorne: 9 Hermosa Beach: 7 Huntington Park: 1 Inglewood: 11 Irwindale: 24 La Verne: 4 Long Beach: 0 Los Angeles: 0 Manhattan Beach: 5 Maywood: 0 Monrovia: 5 Montebello: 36 Monterey Park: 0 Palos Verdes Estates: 0 Pasadena: 0 Pomona: 4 Redondo Beach: 13 San Fernando: 13 San Gabriel: 1 San Marino: 0 Santa Monica: 1 Sierra Madre: 0 Signal Hill: 0 South Gate: 4 South Pasadena: 4 Torrance: 0 West Covina: 4 Whittier: 0 Cal Poly State: 0 COUNTY TOTAL 362