Gun fight at the O.C. corral


Just because I don’t want a Glock in my pocket doesn’t mean I don’t understand law-abiding people who do. I just think of them as having a more hyper-developed sense of “kill or be killed” than the rest of us.

Eric Magness would hardly describe himself as a gunslinger. He says he’s a licensed firearms instructor, but his day job is in the technology industry. He had a concealed weapons permit for six years until it expired in October, at which point the new sheriff in town put the kibosh on his right to pack.

And yes, he’s a mite upset about it.

So are an unknown number of other Orange Countians. What that number turns out to be may say something about whether Sheriff Sandra Hutchens becomes more than a two-year appointee when she runs for election in 2010.


Hutchens has tightened the policy for carrying concealed weapons that was embraced by predecessor Michael S. Carona. The policy has hit Magness, 47, where it hurts -- in the holster.

Magness concedes the issue may be a passionate one for only a relatively small group of people. “But it’s a telling sign of a public official who brings in a philosophy from Los Angeles that doesn’t belong in Orange County and imposes that philosophy against the will of the people and the board that hired her.”

I don’t know how to prove it, but Magness says Carona’s policy on permits was “widely accepted” among the public and the Board of Supervisors. But he’s right on one count -- Hutchens, appointed in June to fill out Carona’s term after he was indicted on corruption charges, has butted heads with the board over some aspects of her permits crackdown.

She thinks Carona too broadly interpreted who had a reason to carry a gun. In some cases, people who showed they frequently went to firing ranges could get a permit. Or, in some cases, people who contributed to his political campaigns.

Hutchens has moved to roll back some of those permits and limit them to people who, in broad strokes, can show “good cause” proof of being in potential danger, either for personal reasons or because of their occupation.

Under Carona, roughly 1,200 people had concealed weapons permits. Hutchens’ tighter guidelines could significantly reduce that number.

You might say Magness is up in arms over it. He doesn’t see why people with clean records who have taken firearms safety courses shouldn’t be allowed to carry concealed weapons.

“A firearm is nothing more than a force-multiplier,” Magness says. “Nothing more than that. It allows you to provide protection against those who wish to do you harm, if the need arises. It’s like an insurance policy. If I never have to use my firearm, I’ll be happy. I hope I never have to. I hope I never have to cash in that policy.”

Even though the idea of fellow citizens carrying a force-multiplier makes me nervous, I get Magness’ argument. I don’t buy it, but I understand the desire not to be a sitting duck if some guy with a knife or a gun wants to do you in.

And there’s no disputing that a good citizen with a gun would have been able to stop some criminals in their tracks before they did their dirty deeds.

But unlike him, I don’t feel any safer knowing that anybody walking down the street might have a gun under their jacket. Even law-abiding citizens get angry, flip out for a second, start arguments . . . and I don’t want them doing that with a gun within easy reach.

Magness sees Hutchens as being “very hostile” to the 2nd Amendment. And if you want to stretch a point, he sees her arbitrariness in granting permits as having other potential constitutional problems.

Cut through all that and you’re left with a legitimate societal debate: Should any citizen with a clean record who is properly trained be allowed to carry guns on the street?

To me, it’s a big fat no.

The idea of defending oneself on the street is hard to argue against, but what happens when the “protector” accidentally shoots an innocent bystander instead of the bad guy in a moment of frenzy?

Magness concedes that the sheriff has the authority in Orange County to decide who does or doesn’t carry. He doesn’t like how Hutchens is handling that authority, citing among other things a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right under the 2nd Amendment to have a gun for protection. That ruling, however, involved guns in people’s homes and did not address the concealed weapons issue.

Magness thinks his rights are being abused. He hopes he and others can change Hutchens’ mind.

If he wants a new sheriff who’ll let more people carry guns on Orange County’s streets and freeways, fair enough.

The election, sir, is next year.