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POLITICAL FORECAST : Will the Debate Over Gun Control Ever End With an Answer?

February 16, 1992| Political forecast interviews were conducted by Jeffrey Levin, who worked for state and local government.

We seem to have reached a stalemate on the policy debate over gun control. How can we resolve the conflict between those who oppose any infringement on the right to own guns and those who seek gun control? Will the conflict be resolved? The Times asked six chiefs of police in California. Robert Burgreen,chief of police, San Diego:

What I see is a creeping tide of people who are changing their minds on the issue, people like myself. I used to be an absolute supporter of an individual's right to keep and bear arms, but I've seen enough in my 32 years as a police officer to lead me to believe that that is no longer realistic.

If the framers of the Constitution had any way to predict what our society would look like today, they would think it ridiculous to (see) the proliferation of guns. The Second Amendment has to do with the right of states to keep a militia. It has nothing to do with the right of an individual to bear arms.

It certainly doesn't make sense in today's society to have almost unrestricted handgun ability. The lobby of the National Rifle Assn. is still very strong, but, more and more, you find people who used to be NRA supporters becoming disenchanted with (the group's) unrealistic expectations of what people's rights are. In another 10 years, you'll see realistic handgun rules nationwide.

Joseph Molloy,chief of police, Anaheim:

I'm on the executive board of the California Police Chiefs, and I've had a chance to sit across the table from the NRA. From what I've seen, there doesn't appear to be any compromise on their part. . . . They just don't want to discuss it.

It would appear that, politically, they still have the power base. They've got money, they've got lobbyists, they've got other things working in their favor, and they've got a single issue. . . . It's going to take some very strong politicians to ever enact any kind of legislation that would do anything to water any of that down. I don't see that happening.

Joseph McNamara,former chief of police, San Jose, now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace:

Tragically, I think it's going to be resolved, especially in the case of assault rifles, with massacres. Just about every few weeks we see some person snapping, a disgruntled worker or disgruntled person going out and killing innocent people. . . . I think that's got to break this year. The political momentum is going to demand that the President get behind (gun control). He is the principal obstacle to it now.

You've got a very solid law-enforcement consensus on assault rifles, especially, and almost to the same extent on the waiting period in the Brady bill. . . . (The NRA's) positions are very much opposed to what not just the chiefs but the street cops feel. In fact, the Federation of Police, the largest union, has backed the Brady bill and the outlawing of assault rifles, as has the State Troopers Assn., which represents 40,000 state police officers, including CHP officers.

Law enforcement has gone political on this issue because we had to. We made it possible for a lot of politicians to come out of the closet and to vote in favor of law enforcement on these bills without being destroyed. The NRA is vicious.

If we don't stop these assault rifles, we'll look like Beruit. Police are already asking for that kind of firepower and it's hard to say no.

John Kearns,chief of police, Sacramento:

I've been chief now for 15 years, and there isn't a day that goes by in our city that we don't have a shooting or several shootings. . . . The community people who are upset about crime and what's occurring in the streets are anti-gun. As the carnage continues to get worse, there are going to be deeper inroads into the ability of citizens to possess weapons.

AB 497, (which requires a 15-day waiting period), took several years to get passed . . . (but) when the issues are on the table and people can speak to them reasonably without the emotion of "the right to bear arms" and all those sorts of things that the NRA tries to dredge up, I think people are going to realize that we just cannot afford to allow certain people to possess guns.

My fear is that there will be a degradation of AB 497 because of pressure from the NRA on legislators to amend it and reduce its effectiveness.

Bill Eastman,chief of police, Pleasanton, and former president, California Police Chiefs Assn.:

I don't think it's going to be resolved as long as the NRA takes the constitutional approach that nothing can be done as far as guns are concerned.

Whether or not the NRA feels like admitting it, we have gun control and we've always had gun control, and it goes back to the days of the Wild West. Opponents of any restriction on firearms say that we should hold people accountable, and they're quite correct. But I think we have to limit access to certain firearms, in addition to holding people accountable. It isn't an either-or situation.

I'm not trying to take every gun away from every good citizen. . . . But I don't see any need for citizens to own semi-automatic assault rifles, any more than I do nuclear weapons. Those aren't self-defense weapons.

The matter rests with the Legislature, and as long as you have attorneys making decisions, you'll have no decisions made.

Joseph Samuels Jr.,chief of police, Fresno:

I don't believe the debate over gun control will be resolved in the near future. . . . In an era when community-based policing has become a dominant (law-enforcement philosophy), we need to focus our energies on those things that bring our communities together--not on those that tend to keep us apart. The gun-control debate frustrates the coalition-building effort essential to effective crime fighting.

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