Council committee votes to exempt retired cops from L.A. ammunition law

Less than three months after the Los Angeles City Council thrust itself into a national debate over gun control by unanimously voting to ban firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, city lawmakers could exempt some retired or reserve police officers from those rules.

A City Council committee focused on public safety voted 3 to 1 to back the proposed exemptions Tuesday. The issue now moves to the full council for a vote.

The proposal pits the Los Angeles Police Protective League -- the politically muscular union that represents city police -- against some of the gun control activists who vociferously championed the new law.

It has already provoked rare division on a council that routinely votes in unison. And it has stirred up concern with City Atty. Mike Feuer, who has privately warned lawmakers that loosening the rules for retired officers could pose a legal risk for the city.

When Los Angeles lawmakers passed the ordinance, supporters said the new rules were a small but important step to reduce the carnage of mass shootings by forcing attackers to stop sooner to reload. Gun rights groups argued the ban violated the 2nd Amendment and was preempted by state law.


Now lawmakers are considering the measure that would exempt 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.

Councilman Mitch Englander, who first made the proposal, called them “common sense” rules that would ensure retired officers didn’t face criminal charges for holding on to the weapons they had been trained to use.

Englander and Councilman Joe Buscaino emphasized that the exemptions would apply only to retired and reserve officers who were deemed “qualified” under state or federal laws. The only committee member to vote against the proposed exemptions, Councilwoman Nury Martinez, did not speak at the Tuesday morning meeting about why she was doing so.

Earlier this year, however, several lawmakers opposed drafting the suggested exemptions, a sign of division in the council.

The L.A. rules already exempt police and military on active duty, licensed firearm dealers and several other categories of gun owners. The Los Angeles Police Protective League said it was important for retired and reserve officers to be exempt as well so that they could face down threats to public safety.

Reserve officers “are highly trained people who go out there and put the same uniform on, drive in the same police cars, and run into the same situations,” the protective league’s director, Peter Repovich, said. In the face of gun violence, Repovich added, “there’s nothing better than to have somebody pop up that they wouldn’t think was necessarily armed, ready to go and eliminate the threat.”

Buscaino echoed that argument, saying, “Heaven forbid, if this city were to be under attack, I would want retired and reserve officers who have the experience and the training to be allowed to protect the people of this city.”

Such arguments have failed to sway some of the gun control activists who fought for the city rules. Margot Bennett, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, said in a written statement that her group was opposed to granting any additional exemptions “until we can be provided with real data that proves the need for these exemptions and outweighs the need for public safety.”

The city attorney has also warned against it: In a confidential report to the council obtained by The Times earlier this year, Feuer said exempting retired officers from the magazine ban would present “significant legal risk” because it would be hard to show that it was “rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”

Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said he couldn’t comment on whether those concerns were still at issue because the document was confidential.

Englander, who is also a reserve police officer, said it would be illegal for him to talk about a confidential document.

“We believe we’re on solid legal footing,” the councilman said. Englander said the city had done “extensive research” after the memo was written, but declined to provide further details.

The Public Safety Committee also voted Tuesday to approve the final wording of a city ordinance that would require Angelenos to lock up or disable handguns with a trigger lock when the weapons aren’t close at hand.

Backers said the new rules would help prevent deadly accidents and suicides. Gun rights activists had staunchly opposed the storage rules, arguing that city lawmakers shouldn’t decide how people defend themselves in their own homes.

Council members had already backed such storage rules earlier this summer, but city lawyers had to clarify some of the wording after lawmakers sought to add it late in the debate, in an attempt to ease concerns raised by the police union that retired officers would not be able to quickly access their guns.

Under L.A.’s proposed ordinance, handguns do not need to be locked up or disabled when they are being carried around, or when they are “within close enough proximity and control” that the owner or another lawfully authorized user can readily retrieve and use them.

When that wording was proposed, it appeared to reassure both gun control activists and the police union. But the two sides disagreed about what the rules would mean in everyday situations -- for instance, whether someone could sleep with a loaded gun on a nightstand.

Feuer spokesman Wilcox said that whether someone was in control “would be a case-by-case, fact-based determination made by a court.” The final wording of the gun storage rules now goes to the entire council for its approval.

Follow @latimesemily for what’s happening at Los Angeles City Hall.


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