The right to carry a concealed weapon in California is mostly reserved for those at risk of violence — jewelers, bail bondsmen and criminal prosecutors among them.
But some legislators say their job has become dangerous too. Despite objections from some law enforcement officials and even gun rights advocates, they want a law that would make it easier for them to tote firearms for protection.
The lawmakers cite the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in Tucson and threats from constituents in California as cause for permits to carry weapons.
“I’ve had guys physically come up to me ready to punch me out,” said Democratic state Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, co-author of a new permit proposal.
Correa, who owns a gun but doesn’t have a concealed-weapon permit, said he has received threats of violence in e-mails, some of which are filled with racial slurs. He said staffers in his Orange County district office have been spat upon, and some have felt threatened by members of the public who come into the office and scream at them because they don’t like the way the state is run.
After the Arizona shooting, one staffer requested that Correa provide a Taser for the office, something he is considering.
Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood), another gun owner and co-author of the proposal, maintains that lawmakers need permits as much as other professionals who have them. Permission should be available, he said, “if you have people who might shoot you because of your occupation.”
Under current law, Californians who want to carry concealed firearms must apply to their county sheriff or police chief and show “good cause” for permission. That can include threats of violence or a dangerous job.
Under the new bill, being an elected state official or a member of Congress would constitute good cause. The officials would, like others, be subject to a background check, and a sheriff or police chief could still turn down the application, Wright noted.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca objects to singling out elected officials.
“We feel electeds should go through the same process [of showing good cause] as everyone else,” said Lt. Wayne Bilowit, the sheriff’s liaison with the Legislature.
Baca has issued about 400 permits countywide, including many to judges and a few to elected officials, Bilowit said. They include county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), according to county records.
The bill’s prospects are unclear, even though some members of the majority party are behind it and the measure includes provisions generally supported by Republicans. One such clause involves gun-safety training required of any permit applicant: The measure would allow the training to take place after the permit decision rather than before, saving the applicant money when permission is denied.
Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a public position on the legislation.
Still, it has created some rare common ground among activists for both gun rights and gun control.
Karen Arntzen, coordinator of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, agrees with Baca that the state should have no special status for elected officials.
“We feel there is no reason why legislators should be any different than other citizens,” she said.
Opponents of gun control note that some of the lawmakers behind SB 610, including its third author, Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (D-Tracy), have opposed some efforts to make it easier for others to carry guns.
Wright and Galgiani voted for legislation in 2009 that limits the ability of residents in small counties to use their gun permits in big urban areas. Wright and Correa supported a Galgiani bill last year that barred people from carrying even unloaded firearms into the state Capitol or any legislative office or hearing room.
“We do look at that as inconsistent,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of the nonprofit Gun Owners of California. He questioned whether lawmakers are in any more danger than anyone else.
“All law-abiding citizens have the same good cause,” he said. “They are law-abiding citizens in troubled times.”