A pro-gun lobbying group, complaining Friday that people in Los Angeles are being denied the right to protect themselves, has filed a lawsuit to force local authorities to be less restrictive in issuing permits to carry concealed firearms.
"You can't stop people from having guns if they're frightened," said Don B. Kates Jr., an attorney representing the Second Amendment Foundation, which filed the lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Alan M. Gottlieb, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based foundation, said his office receives at least six complaints each week from people denied weapons permits in Los Angeles.
Foundation officials, joined in the case by the Congress of Racial Equality, said they believe that criminals would be less inclined to prey on people, especially minorities, if more law-abiding members of the public were legally armed.
Named as defendants in the case are the Los Angeles and San Fernando police departments and various officials from each agency. Authorities from both departments declined to comment pending the outcome of the case.
California law allows sheriffs and police chiefs to issue concealed-weapons permits to residents as long as "good cause exists for the issuance" and applicants are of good moral character.
However, authorities in Los Angeles County grant relatively few requests for permits because, they say, there are already too many guns on the streets. Fewer than 300 Los Angeles County residents are believed to possess gun permits, which allow the holder to legally carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the state.
The Los Angeles Police Department has granted only one permit in nearly 20 years--to newly installed Police Chief Willie L. Williams. The San Fernando Police Department has issued no more than 70 permits, including one to each of the department's 50 or so reserve police officers, according to Chief Dominick J. Rivetti.
The lawsuit alleges that Rivetti has denied individuals with legitimate need the right to protect themselves, while granting permits to celebrities and other "favored persons," specifically television stars Fred Dryer and James Darren.
While declining to discuss the lawsuit, Rivetti said Friday that Dryer--who portrayed a Los Angeles police detective in the show "Hunter"--is a San Fernando reserve officer who promotes and raises funds for the department's anti-drug education program. Darren used to be a reserve officer, Rivetti said, and his gun permit has been revoked.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Los Angeles County residents who have been denied permits to carry concealed weapons. They contend that they need to carry guns because their lives have been threatened or because they regularly carry large amounts of cash and other valuables.
The residents are journalist Peter A. Lake, radio news director Brian Cooley, private investigator O. Ray Watkins, gun salesman Neil Dugan, water filter saleswoman Diane Adair, nursery operator Robert Okluski, gunsmith Anthony Imbronone, real estate salesman Charles Singer and investment broker James E. Hildebrand.
A similar lawsuit was filed last October against the San Fernando Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department by Ray Hickman, the owner of a Sylmar security company. Hickman said he too has repeatedly applied for a concealed-weapon permit, only to be turned down. Hickman's case is pending in U. S. District Court.
A spokesman for the anti-gun lobbying group Handgun Control criticized the intent of such lawsuits, calling them a threat to public safety.
"More guns out there on the street doesn't necessarily make us safer," spokeswoman Gwen Fitzgerald said. "In this country last year, homicide increased 4%, but handgun homicide went up 14%."