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Minister Applies for Weapons Permit

Guns: Wiley Drake says shelter is safe, but cites risk from 'dangerous criminals' in request to carry concealed weapon.

May 21, 1999|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Wiley Drake, the outspoken Buena Park advocate of the homeless, says he wants to carry a gun to protect himself against some of the people he tries to help.

Death threats and assaults, he said, have made him fear for his life at the First Southern Baptist Church, where he shelters hundreds of homeless people every year over the protests of neighbors.

"I believe in nonviolence . . . but if you're attacked physically, if you are attacked by someone wielding a gun, you have the right to protect yourself," he said Thursday. "I don't see any incongruity if it's a minister, a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker."

But, some neighbors say, the pastor's request for a weapon bears out their fears that his shelter has made the area unsafe.

"If people who are dangerous are that close to my home, maybe I should feel in danger," said Virginia Tressler, who lives six houses from Drake's church.

Though Tressler supports gun control, she wonders whether she, like the pastor, might need extra protection.

Drake is one of a record number of applicants seeking permission this year from the Sheriff's Department to carry a concealed weapon.

In Drake's application for a concealed-weapons permit, which The Times obtained under the California Public Records Act, the pastor acknowledged that he works daily with "dangerous criminals on probation and parole."

"Most are rehabilitated," he wrote, "but in many cases, they revert to previous habits and attitudes which require me to evict them."

In an interview Thursday, however, Drake continued to defend his shelter, saying that 24-hour security guards make the premises and surrounding area safe, and that the vast majority of his clients are well-behaved. But, he acknowledged, there are times when tenants turn violent.

"We are in a high-risk ministry," he said, "because we deal with people who have bad backgrounds and [are in] gangs."

Drake is no stranger to controversy. He has drawn fire from gay-rights groups over his leading role in a national campaign to boycott the Walt Disney Co. over Disney's favorable policies toward gay employees.

Two years ago, the Texas native clashed with Buena Park officials who told him his shelter violated zoning laws. Drake was convicted on misdemeanor charges for violating building codes and ordered to complete 1,500 hours of community service. Drake is currently building a permanent shelter to comply with zoning regulations.

Drake's neighbor Tressler, a Congregationalist, said she thinks it is inappropriate for a clergyman to carry a weapon.

"Maybe I'm too much of a pacifist, but I don't think that violence reacting to violence is a way to solve problems," she said.

But Drake defended his application. He said that owning a gun has become a "cultural necessity" for law-abiding citizens, whether ministers or otherwise.

The Baptist minister already owns a gun that he keeps at home. He would shoot someone, he said, if doing so would protect his or someone else's life.

So far, though, he has been lucky. Drake said that though he has been assaulted at the shelter several times, someone has always been on hand to restrain the attacker. He couldn't say whether he would have used his gun during any of the attacks had he been armed.

"That's sort of armchair quarterbacking," he said. "Everything worked out all right, so I'm glad it wasn't a necessity to have a weapon . . . but there isn't always going to be someone around to help."

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