Gun Enthusiasts in Whittier Drop Recall Campaign

Times Staff Writer

Gun enthusiasts have dropped their effort to recall the entire City Council because it banned assault weapons and decided to focus their attention instead on ousting state lawmakers as they come up for reelection.

In May, state lawmakers passed a landmark bill making California the first state to ban military-style assault weapons. The state law becomes effective in January and will supersede the Whittier statute.

"We decided not to waste time and energy on the small-fry City Council types," said Paul Schwemler, spokesman for the Whittier Voters Coalition, which includes members of the National Rifle Assn. "We said, 'Let's go after the big guys.' "

Besides, a recall election would have cost Whittier taxpayers $35,000, money that could be spent elsewhere, he said.

Schwemler said group members will join other gun enthusiasts throughout the state in a united effort to remove state lawmakers who support gun control.

The group's decision to drop the recall effort was announced Monday, a day before members would have been required to submit the signatures of 7,500 registered Whittier voters to the city clerk.

Some Whittier officials doubted that group members were able to obtain enough signatures to force a recall election. They said gun enthusiasts appear to be making excuses.

"The proposed recall was a nonhappening from the beginning and I'm not surprised it's not going to a vote," City Manager Thomas Mauk said. "People support the action made by the council and (lawmakers in) Sacramento. The truth of it is, there was not much success in the gathering of signatures."

Schwemler, however, insisted that the group had gathered "more than enough" signatures to bring the issue to a vote. But, he said he did not know the exact number they had obtained.

"Our efforts were not in vain," Schwemler said. "It became very apparent there are a lot of people out there who support us."

Group members announced in July that they had gathered about 5,000 signatures. Only one in 15 people who were approached did not want to sign the petition, Schwemler said.

The Whittier Voters Coalition began its petition drive in April after the council joined a growing number of local government agencies in condemning semiautomatic weapons.

After five schoolchildren in Stockton were killed in January by a man using a semiautomatic assault weapon, more than a dozen cities--including Los Angeles, Carson and Beverly Hills--passed restrictions on such weapons.

In the Southeast area, Compton, Long Beach and Lynwood also have passed laws against assault weapons.

The action taken by the local governments sent a message to lawmakers in Sacramento and made way for the passage of the landmark bill, some Whittier officials said.

The gun enthusiasts, however, said the outpouring of sentiment against assault weapons was caused by "media hype" after the Stockton massacre and by misunderstandings of guns in general.

They criticized the Whittier City Council for not allowing residents to vote on the assault rifle ordinance and for "endangering the public health and safety by enacting a restrictive firearms ordinance that refuses a citizen of Whittier the right to keep and bear arms."

From the beginning, City Council members said they did not take the recall effort--a rare event in Whittier--seriously.

"Not for one minute did I think they could raise enough signatures," Councilman Gene Chandler said. "I said from the beginning it was totally ridiculous."

Schwemler said although group members will focus their attention on state elections, they will be keeping a watchful eye on city races.

Chandler and Mayor Victor Lopez hold the only two seats open in the April election. Lopez said he will not seek reelection. Chandler said he has not reached a decision.

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