Police Chief Randy G. Adams announced clear-cut guidelines Tuesday that could make it easier for city residents to obtain permits to carry loaded handguns.
Critics quickly attacked Adams’ plan for not going far enough to ease local interpretation of state gun laws, and for making the privilege of carrying a concealed weapon unbearably costly.
National Rifle Assn. member Mike Mason criticized Adams’ requirement that applicants buy $1 million worth of insurance and pass a psychological exam which, by his combined estimates, could cost more than $1,800.
“You’re talking about a large sum of money,” said Mason, president of the NRA Members Council of Eastern Ventura County. “You’re bringing it into a situation where only the wealthy can afford the right to protect themselves.”
The new policy--aimed at clarifying California gun laws--empowers Adams to issue permits to law-abiding Simi Valley residents who:
* Have good moral character, as required under current state law.
* Can show good cause for needing to carry a loaded gun, also required by law. Adams’ policy adds: “This may include personal protection to mitigate a perceived threat.”
* Pass a firearms safety course.
* Carry pepper spray as a nonlethal alternative to gunfire.
* Obtain $1 million in personal liability insurance.
* Submit to being fingerprinted and to a thorough background check.
* Pass a battery of psychological tests to prove they are mentally stable.
* And pay a $76 application fee.
The Simi Valley Police Department said it cannot predict how many handgun permits might be issued under Adams’ new plan, according to Lt. Tony Harper, a department spokesman. Today, only 21 civilian Simi Valley residents have current licenses to carry loaded handguns.
But staff mailed out application papers to 45 residents on Tuesday, Harper said, adding, “We certainly haven’t put a cap on permits. The qualifications are set, and if they can pass the qualifications . . . then they’ll get a permit.”
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury called Adams’ plan “a comprehensive policy.”
“It deletes the need to state a specific reason for carrying the firearm and instead establishes a more liberal standard of good cause,” Bradbury said. “It tightens up in terms of requiring a psychological exam. You don’t typically see that in these policies.”
Bradbury approved of the mental health screening process, saying it can help weed out more bad applicants than a scan of someone’s misdemeanor arrest record.
And the district attorney called the requirement to carry pepper spray “visionary . . . because it provides a measured response to nonlethal attacks.”
But NRA member Mason criticized the pepper spray clause: “I’ve had a number of people say [to me] that when they reach into their pocket or purse, what they come up with first is not going to be the pepper spray.”
The plan drew mixed reviews from other Ventura County police officials, and from combatants on both sides of the handgun debate.
Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Stan Myers said he does not support Adams’ plan to allow more weapons on the street. Adams seems to be responding to local pressure, he said.
“It’s a move more consistent with the philosophy of Simi Valley,” said Myers. “Obviously, this chief . . . and the people who guide him and assist him in making this decision felt that it’s a reasonable move.”
But Port Hueneme Police Chief John Hopkins said, “I think he is just trying to even things out, make it fair and reasonable to carry a concealed weapon. It’s been a problem throughout the state in making it fair.”
Some observers questioned whether Adams’ plan will actually make it more difficult to get a handgun permit.
“This kind of looks like what already exists on the books and then some,” said Sandy Cooney, president of the lobbying group Handgun Control Inc. “Not only is the police chief making sure that the law is followed, but he’s added things in addition to public safety, like a psychological test, like insurance, like fingerprints.”
Simi Valley councilwoman and pro-gun lobbyist Sandi Webb said she has already urged the chief to ease or remove the need for psychological tests.
“The average person can’t pass that,” she said of the kind of rigorous mental screening now required of police cadets. “I wouldn’t have the psychology to be a police officer. I don’t have the guts to go into a darkened building knowing a murderer is in there . . . and the average person wouldn’t either.”
She, too, criticized Adams for requiring measures with high costs, such as the insurance policy and psychological exam, which could make legally carrying a gun too expensive for poorer people.
But added Webb, who admits that she began illegally packing a pistol while driving her actress daughter to Hollywood for auditions, “My application was in there the day after he was sworn in.”
Police estimate the psychological exam could cost applicants $250 to $350.
Allstate Insurance spokeswoman Nancy Anderson said her company would issue a $1-million policy only to handgun permit applicants who already carry $250,000 in auto liability insurance and $300,000 in homeowners’ liability insurance. The annual cost, she said: an extra $190.
However, Mason of the NRA said that one private detective interested in getting a weapons permit learned his insurance company would charge him $1,500 annually for a $1-million liability policy.
Adams, who was unavailable Tuesday for comment, is already planning to revise his initial plans for an expensive police-type mental health screening. Harper said the chief is expected to huddle with Simi Valley psychologists on Friday to work on a less intensive psychological test.
Dr. Susan Saxe-Clifford, who does psychological testing for the department, said, “What we want to find is a fair and conservative and professional way to evaluate individuals before they’re armed under the authority of the police department.”
Adams’ plans could become moot if a proposed handgun bill makes it through the Legislature and on to the governor’s office, however.
The California Assembly last week narrowly approved a bill that would require local police chiefs and sheriffs to issue handgun permits after a 15-day waiting period to anyone who can prove they have training or competence with a gun and pays a $12.50 fee. Applicants also must have no street gang affiliation, no criminal record of spousal abuse, no record of mental illness or a dishonorable discharge from the military.
Those who qualify could be denied if the law enforcement official concludes, based on a police officer’s personal knowledge, that an “applicant is likely to use the weapon unlawfully or negligently.”
Adams’ new policy won support from at least one gun shop owner.
“Californians want to be able to protect themselves and need to protect themselves,” said Andrew Dickson, manager of Shooters Paradise in Simi Valley.
The policy’s training clause will likely increase business for the shop, which Dickson said charges $85 for a two-day course on firearm use, gun laws and target shooting.
Adams’ plan has already pricked up the ears of local gun owners, Dickson said: “Ever since the rumor came out that the chief was going to be offering more concealed weapons permits, our phone’s been ringing off the hook.”
* Correspondent Jeff McDonald also contributed to this story. McDonald is a Times correspondent