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California

L.A. City Council votes to allow more exemptions to ammunition limit

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Gun-control activists gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall for a rally before the July 28 vote to ban magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

In a hotly contested move, Los Angeles lawmakers decided Wednesday to carve out more exemptions to a city law meant to curb the carnage of mass shootings, arguing that it would better protect the public from such attacks.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 11 to 4 to allow some retired and reserve police officers to possess firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The City Hall deliberations played out at the same time that reports emerged of a mass shooting in San Bernardino — news that Councilman Mitch Englander shared just before the vote.

The debate pitted the Los Angeles Police Department and the police union, a politically muscular group that has been an important player in local elections, against some of the gun-control activists who had championed the L.A. ban on such ammunition magazines as a way to force attackers to interrupt their rampages sooner to reload.

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Police argued that exempting retired and reserve officers from the citywide ban, which was passed earlier this year, would ensure they were equipped to face threats to public safety. In the throes of an attack, “wouldn’t you want some guy to stand up with a gun and be able to defend people?” asked Peter Repovich, director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Gun-control supporters countered that carving out exemptions to the rules would only weaken the ordinance. “We don’t have any data that says that providing high-capacity ammunition magazines to retired officers actually increases public safety,” said Daniel Healy, associate director of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles.

It also stirred concerns for City Atty. Mike Feuer, who privately warned lawmakers earlier this year that the carve-out could create a legal risk for the city. Los Angeles already is being sued over the city ordinance by gun-rights groups and other critics who argue it is preempted by California law and adds to a confusing patchwork of local rules that gun owners must navigate when they travel.

The L.A. law, passed earlier this year, already exempted police and military on active duty, licensed firearms dealers and several other categories of gun owners.

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Under the new exemptions, the rules also would be lifted for retired law enforcement officers who have permits to carry concealed weapons, as well as reserve officers who work for agencies that already authorize them to possess such gun magazines.

At a Wednesday hearing, LAPD Deputy Chief of Detectives Kirk Albanese said the department was “absolutely” in favor of exempting retired and reserve officers from the rules so that trained veterans of the police force could save lives.

City Councilman Mitch Englander, who is an LAPD reserve officer, recounted incidents in which retired officers stopped robberies or other attacks and emphasized that the exemptions would apply only to officers who were deemed “qualified” under state or federal laws. And Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said it made no sense to bar police from using such ammunition magazines once they retired.

“I am of the firm belief that once a cop, always a cop,” O’Farrell said.

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Their arguments failed to sway Council Members Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez and David Ryu, who opposed the proposed exemptions. If the goal is to help retired officers fend off attacks on the public, “I’m not sure there are many cases that you could point to where you absolutely needed to spray 20 or 30 bullets” to stop a threat, Councilman Koretz said before voting against the exemption.

“The danger is that retired police officers are not necessarily magically any different than anybody else” and could suffer depression or other problems after retiring, Koretz added.

The danger is that retired police officers are not necessarily magically any different than anybody else.
Paul Koretz, city councilman
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Feuer, the city attorney, also warned lawmakers against the idea: In a confidential report to the council obtained by The Times earlier this year, he said exempting retired officers would pose “significant legal risk” because it would be hard to show that it was “rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”

Englander bristled at that argument, contending that other attorneys had told him it was “absolutely false” that exempting retired officers would pose such a legal problem. City lawyers said Wednesday that Feuer stood by his advice.

Chief Assistant City Atty. David Michaelson added that if the exemptions were found unconstitutional, the city law included a provision that could allow the exemptions to be removed without jeopardizing the entire ordinance. But he cautioned that the city would have to persuade a judge to do so and could still face legal costs for damages.

Because the exemptions were not unanimously approved Wednesday, they must undergo a second reading at City Hall before getting final approval. Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to sign off on the exemptions, his spokeswoman, Connie Llanos, said.

Follow @LATimesEmily for breaking news from Los Angeles City Hall.

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