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Guns in Cars

August 23, 1987

After a brief lull, gunplay has returned to California roads--in the north now as well as in the south. It might be worse without the heavy-duty patrolling that police started after the firing began two months ago, but patrolling obviously cannot stop all of it.

With four people dead in more than 60 such incidents, ideas ranging from full television coverage of freeways to heavy penalties that would send shootists to already-crowded prisons have been put forward. But these and other proposals are designed for punishment, not prevention.

That weapons are in automobiles in the first place when some miscue pushes a motorist to blind rage is still the basic problem. The law says that it is all right for a driver to have a handgun on the seat--within reach if he is slowed by a car in front of him. Having the same weapon hidden in a glove compartment is a misdemeanor.

Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles) plans to introduce legislation on Monday to make it a felony to carry a handgun anyplace in the passenger compartment. It should be enacted into law quickly, not because any single change in the law can put an end to freeway shootings overnight but because it goes to the heart of the outbreak of violence as no other proposal can. No matter how shabbily a driver may feel treated by other motorists on a freeway, the consequence cannot be gunplay if there is no gun with which to play.

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