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MAKING CHANGE: For Money, Guns, Governors, and Growth Policy : Stockton Murders and Sacramento Stalemates

January 29, 1989|Ed Davis | Ed Davis, who originated Neighborhood Watch when he was the Los Angeles police chief, is a state senator from Valencia

SACRAMENTO — The tragic murder of five children on a Stockton schoolyard, by a criminal wielding an assault rifle, prompts renewed pleas to the Legislature for the rapid outlawing of such weapons.

The competing sides of this issue are personified by two antagonists, State Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti and retired state Sen. H.L. Richardson, a director of the National Rifle Assn. Roberti has urged that citizens "write, talk, call on talk radio, call on legislators, demand, scream, pressure, intimidate--they should do all of that," in support of a ban. Richardson, by contrast, has focused on the deceased killer, Patrick Edward Purdy: "The real question is how a nut like that, with his record, can walk around on the streets?"

In my ninth year as a legislator, I can tell you that argument on the control of guns is one of the most shrill and illogical debates to which a legislator can listen. It has much of the high emotional content of the debate over abortion, frequently fraught with the same feelings, emotionalism and sentiment that totally obscure practical and logical aspects of the problem. During all of my time as a public official there has been a highly militant pressure group that would ban any and all personal possession of firearms. They are offset by groups that fight for the right to possess any and all firearms. These two polarized factions have thus far been incapable of rational communication.

I have lived on both sides of the fence separating these two camps. As an occasional hunter, I have owned weapons designed for effective hunting. As a private citizen, I have owned handguns useful in defending my family from dangerous predatory human beings. I will not docilely tolerate any person or government interfering with my right to engage in lawful hunting or the lawful protection of my family. I have, on the other hand, spent 37 years with the Los Angeles Police Department watching all of the damage done by irresponsible people with guns and all of the carnage done by criminals in possession of guns.

The idea of a total ban on firearms or all handguns is abhorrent to me. We have too many defenseless citizens and seniors who are robbed at their places of business, on the streets and in their own homes. Until we provide our police forces and courts with more funds to reform our criminal justice system and take these mad dogs out of the community, I'm going to maintain a firearm and I think every other law-abiding citizen should have that right.

I find the "all or nothing" approach of opposing advocates on this issue personally disgusting. I don't want people screaming at me on this issue or attempting to intimidate me; I want cold, logical arguments on the facts. Without rushing, but with all deliberate speed, the Legislature should, once all the facts are known, confront this problem by evaluating the type of weapon in question and the type of individual who commits such murders.

Does an AK-47 have any legitimate hunting or sporting use, or is it so easily converted into a full machine gun type of weapon that it should be banned, the way we banned the sawed-off shotgun and the machine gun? I don't yet know the answer, but I intend to listen, dispassionately, as both sides present their cases.

If we decide to restrict or ban such weapons, it should be done not by broad language, such as "semiautomatic military weapons," but by a discrete identification of the AK-47 or other specific weapons we wish to restrict.

I will intently listen to police professionals on this issue as well as to abolitionists and gun lobby spokesmen. My years of Sacramento experience in listening has, however, convinced me that all three groups are equally uncompromising in their positions.

Most significant legislation comes about when proponents and opponents of conflicting ideas resolve enough of their differences to discover a synergistic approach that is better for everyone. This happens too infrequently, and we have too many logjams where powerful competitive interests stymie any constructive legislative action and exacerbate already difficult situations.

All too often the public falls prey to legislative impotence rather than reform. A particularly compelling and repugnant example of a special-interest stalemate was brought into our living rooms during the recent initiative battle between our insurance and legal behemoths.

Another painful example involves the issue of workers' compensation laws. Competing special interests assure that injured workers are inadequately compensated with increased frequency; employers pay increasingly high costs for workers' compensation insurance, and too many medical and legal practitioners prosper from the process.

I do not damn the pressure groups, such as lawyers, trade unions, professional organizations and business organizations. They are absolutely healthy to good government; without them we as individuals would be ineffective in having our voices heard in the far-off legislative bodies of Sacramento and Washington. The only evil is when these groups abuse their power by sitting like pigs in the middle of the road of progress to prevent any solution.

Let us break with this poor tradition so that logical and reasonable compromises may be achieved. We must urge the 1989 Legislature to realize that if everyone gives a little, solutions can be reached that protect all of our basic rights while dealing effectively with these issues. Most important, let us do everything in our power to ensure that we minimize the possibility of another Stockton schoolyard massacre. Can we afford to do less?

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