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Proposal to Ease Gun Law Heads for Ballot Showdown

March 02, 1995|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Redondo Beach residents are drawing battle lines over the right of citizens to carry guns.

Voters will decide Tuesday whether to ask state legislators to make it possible for nearly any citizen to carry a weapon.

The impending vote has brought the divisive national issue home to Redondo Beach, where both sides are canvassing neighborhoods and making phone calls urging residents to take a stand.

Redondo's Proposition E, which has no power to change state law, is believed to be the first measure of its kind in California. It calls for easing state restrictions on concealed-weapon permits.

State law, which overrides local law, allows only a police chief to determine who gets a permit for a concealed weapon; permits are difficult to obtain in most jurisdictions.

If passed, Redondo's Proposition E would recommend to legislators that anyone in California who can pass a firearms safety course and is not deemed a threat to public safety be eligible.

Although Proposition E is only an advisory measure, the issue has sparked strong opinions on both sides in the South Bay's largest beach city.

Supporters argue that easing weapons rules could curtail violence.

"Police are spread thin. In six to eight minutes, you can be dead and all the police can do is put a chalk mark around you," said resident Jerald Lorenz, a supporter of the measure, who argues that armed citizens have a greater chance of defending themselves against criminals.

But resident Vanessa Poster, who is a member of the city's youth commission, believes violence would rise if more people carried weapons.

"We need to decrease the violence by getting to know each other and starting citizens groups," she said.

Concern over violence has touched off similar debates in California and across the country. City councils in Stockton and Fresno recently voted down proposals to ease restrictions on permits in their cities.

Supporters of Proposition E argue that other states, including Florida, have had success in easing restrictions on gun ownership.

Tuesday's advisory vote will come two weeks after Republican legislators in the state Assembly and Senate proposed new laws to make it easier for citizens to carry guns.

To obtain a permit in Redondo Beach, residents must prove they are more susceptible to crime than the average person because of a dangerous job or a history of being stalked. Five people in the city have permits to carry concealed weapons.

But the proposition's backers want that changed.

"If a bad guy's coming after me, I want to have a fighting chance," said resident Robe Richester, 45.

The measure has been backed by an eight-member group called the Community Safety Council, which lobbied for the City Council to place the issue on the ballot. The council agreed in a 3-2 vote. Resident Bob Kramer, a member of the citizens group, said it did not ask for backing from the National Rifle Assn. because it sought to keep a local focus.

Supporters have been calling voters to rally enthusiasm for the measure. "We have been conducting an educational process to enlighten people," said Lorenz, a Community Safety Council member.

About two dozen opponents, meanwhile, have been canvassing neighborhoods to discuss Redondo's measure, said opposition organizer Megan Cassette, a Redondo resident and principal of El Segundo Middle School.

"The very idea that people could be walking into a school with loaded guns is pretty scary to me," Cassette said.

Opponents have cited a position paper issued this month by the California Police Chiefs Assn., which maintains that carrying concealed weapons "is and should continue to be a privilege that is granted to few persons."

City Councilman Robert Pinzler has been outspoken in opposing the easing of weapons controls.

Pinzler said: "The phrase I like to use is: Imagine your neighbor at his most irrational. Now imagine your neighbor at his most irrational with a gun."

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