Column: Gridlock in Congress? Act locally

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer speaks to the media during the inaugural National Prosecutorial Summit in Atlanta on Oct. 21.
Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer speaks to the media during the inaugural National Prosecutorial Summit in Atlanta on Oct. 21.
(Branden Camp / Associated Press)

The voters casting ballots in Tuesday’s election will disagree on many things. But on one thing, at least, Americans are in agreement: They’re frustrated with gridlock.

But here is something to consider. While the intense partisanship in Washington has stymied almost all progress at the federal level, it has also led to creativity across the nation as local and state governments try to fill the void created by Congress’ inaction.

Local action is not always positive: Congress’ failure to address immigration reform, for instance, has encouraged many states to attempt their own measures, often at the expense of decency and common sense — and in violation of federal law. The patchwork of marijuana laws in different states also creates confusion and conflicts with federal statutes.

But some local governments are forging sound policy in areas where Washington has fallen short. In the area of income inequality, Congress cannot bring itself to raise the minimum wage, so many cities, including Los Angeles, are exploring ways of doing so themselves. And, since Congress has long proven that no tragedy is severe enough to jog it into action on controlling gun violence, many cities — especially Los Angeles — are filling that void as well.


Attempts to reduce easy access to guns in Los Angeles have been mainly the work of City Atty. Mike Feuer, for whom the issue has been a lifelong concern. As a member of the City Council in the 1990s, Feuer pressed for some of the city’s most creative gun control measures — he successfully championed limiting gun owners to one purchase per month and restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines. As a state legislator, he continued that work, and now he has returned to office as the city’s top lawyer, a post from which he is pioneering new ways to remove guns from criminals and protect innocent people from harm.

Since taking office last year, Feuer has charged one parent with neglect for failing to lock up guns in her home — a crime that came to light when the woman’s 17-year-old son allegedly brought a gun and ammunition to school. That’s the first case of its kind, and will be prosecuted by Greg Dorfman, who heads the city attorney’s Gun Violence Prevention Unit. In addition, the city attorney’s office is attempting to draw attention to the issue of safe and legal gun storage by working with Women Against Gun Violence to host a series of educational forums.

Feuer also has launched an effort to identify anyone who lives inside Los Angeles and who is legally prohibited from owning guns — the LAPD estimates that there are nearly 2,000 such people, some of them mentally ill and others whose convictions for domestic abuse make them permanently ineligible to possess a firearm.

“I had committed when I ran for this office… to continue my career-long focus on gun violence,” Feuer told me last week. “We have to do better than this.”

The combined efforts of the city attorney and Police Department are yielding significant results. Every one of the department’s 21 geographic divisions now has a so-called “APPS Unit” (the LAPD loves its acronyms, and that one stands for Armed Prohibited Persons System). So far this year, those units have seized more than 500 weapons, according to LAPD Detective Rick Tompkins of the department’s gun unit.

Just last Monday night, Tompkins said, police responding to a domestic violence call in the San Fernando Valley broke up a dispute and then searched the residence for weapons, as the protocol crafted with the city attorney’s office suggests. They found 86 guns, including a number of assault weapons. The suspect in that case has been charged with weapons violations as well as domestic violence.

Other cities are taking notice. Working with Manhattan District Atty. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Feuer helped found Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. The group held its first meeting last month and is attempting to advance non-partisan proposals for reducing gun violence.

Shootings from Newtown to Isla Vista have shocked the public but proved insufficient to jolt Congress even to enact new registration requirements for gun owners, much less restrictions on who can possess them. That contributes to the widespread cynicism about government, but it shouldn’t cause the public to abandon all hope.

Feuer’s work on guns is taking dangerous weapons out of the hands of violent people. It is saving lives. It might even help revive the belief that government can work.

Twitter: @newton_jim