VAN NUYS — The man who shot and killed a graffiti vandal claimed Monday that his constitutional right of self-defense was violated by Los Angeles' 18-year policy of refusing to issue permits for concealed weapons.
The novel argument to dismiss misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon against William Andrew Masters II was made in Van Nuys Municipal Court.
The theory, according to attorney C.D. Michel, is that if Masters had been given the chance for such a permit, he would not have violated the law against carrying a concealed, loaded weapon.
"The effect of this city's concededly illegal conduct was to make compliance with the requirements of this legislation impossible for the people of this city," Michel said in the written motion. "This is fundamentally unfair and patently unconstitutional."
City lawyers disagreed.
"We do not feel a person has an unequivocal right to bear arms at will," said Deputy City Atty. George Shell. "I don't think we're in a situation like the fable Wild West when people could tote a gun for any reason."
Masters fatally shot Cesar Rene Arce, 18, during a confrontation with Arce and another tagger on Jan. 31.
According to Masters, the confrontation ensued after he wrote down the taggers' license plate number and refused to surrender it. Masters also said the pair tried to rob him.
The surviving tagger, David Hillo, who was wounded and is now serving a lengthy jail term, denied that he or Arce tried to rob Masters.
Beginning in 1974, the Los Angeles Police Department issued no concealed weapons permits until 1992, when Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams obtained one.
To settle several lawsuits, the LAPD agreed to issue permits, and about 60 have been granted since last spring with 200 applications pending, said Assistant City Atty. Byron Boeckman.
Boeckman said the Police Commission agreed to settle the lawsuits because "a court could reasonably conclude the failure to issue any permits over a 17-year period might tend to show the policy was not to grant any permits--period."
The hitch in the Masters case, Boeckman said, is that Masters never applied for a concealed weapons permit, a fact that hurts his legal argument.
USC constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agreed that Masters' claim is weak.
"There's no constitutional right to have a concealed-weapon permit," Chemerinsky said. "It's very difficult for him to show he was hurt" by the LAPD policy.
But Masters' attorney said his client will testify that he called police to seek an application to carry a concealed weapon in the early 1990s, but none was forthcoming, as was police policy.
"It doesn't matter if he was denied" a permit, Michel said. "The point is there wasn't a mechanism for him to be granted a permit."
Michel said he will argue his point all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
"There's definitely a chance we will be making some new law here," Michel said.
Masters' trial on two misdemeanor counts was postponed Monday until Sept. 17. Masters, 35, a sometime actor who has been revered as a crime-fighting hero and reviled as a vigilante, did not appear in court Monday.