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Freeways and Guns

August 25, 1987

The Times is to be commended on the excellent editorial "Guns and Tire Irons" (Aug. 6), regarding the recent freeway shootings and the need for gun control legislation that would prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. Since June 18, numerous freeway shootings have occurred in Los Angeles County, resulting in four deaths and seven injuries. Auto-oriented violence is not new, however: There was a similar rash of freeway shootings in 1977, and gang-related drive-by shootings happen with some frequency. What is new is the media attention that the shootings have drawn and, along with it, the realization that there is an urgent need for controls over handguns.

The underlying problem with these, and all other shootings, is the proliferation of handguns in California. Almost anyone 18 years old or older may purchase a handgun after waiting 15 days for his or her purchase to clear. Although carrying a concealed handgun is a crime, it is only a misdemeanor, with a maximum jail term of six months. Usually, violators spend a few days in jail, or receive a fine. If the same person were to be found concealing a knife or brass knuckles, he could be charged with a felony. It seems that a loaded gun concealed on a person's body or in his car presents a much greater danger to public safety than a pair of brass knuckles.

In 1981 I introduced a motion that would have called for state legislation to make carrying a concealed handgun, without a permit, a felony, punishable by a mandatory jail sentence. No such legislation was ever passed, but the need for it remains. The time has come for the safety of the citizens of the county and the state to be placed before the desires of the gun lobby. If a law-abiding citizen has a legitimate reason for carrying a concealed weapon in public, he may obtain a permit from local law enforcement. If the local authorities do not believe that there is reason enough to issue the permit, public safety is better served by imposing harsh punishment on those who insist on breaking the law.

The Canadian government has spent the past 100 years gradually developing limitations on handguns to the point where now they are permitted inside one's home or business, and then only after careful review by the authorities. As a result of this legislation, fewer than 60 homicides in Canada were committed in 1979 with handguns. This represented 10% of all homicides in the country. In the same year, 50% of all homicides in the United States were committed with handguns.

Such regulations on the purchase and use of handguns in California might be one solution to the problem of violent crime. Continuing the lack of meaningful controls over handguns will only help to shift the balance of power away from law enforcement and towards criminal elements.

EDMUND D. EDELMAN

Third District Supervisor

Los Angeles County

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