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Put sanity in the gun debate

The dialogue on arms, ammunition needs to include moderate voices

January 19, 2011|STEVE LOPEZ

The gun was in a backpack, we're told. The backpack was dropped or set down in a Gardena High School classroom Tuesday morning, and the gun fired accidentally, critically injuring a 15-year-old female student who was struck in the head. A male student, also 15, was shot in the neck.

You send your kids to school, and before the lunch bell rings, they're in the hospital.

So the questions begin.

Why is it so easy to smuggle a gun onto campus? How many more guns are on school campuses in greater Los Angeles and beyond? And when someone carries a gun for self-protection, as this kid allegedly did, isn't everyone, including the guy with the gun, at greater risk?

Maybe there's a simpler and more direct question to be asked: When it comes to guns, why do we seem to be out of our gourds?

As the drama was playing out Tuesday at Gardena High, I got an unfortunately timed e-mail, at 11:11 a.m., from the National Rifle Assn. I get regular e-mails because a reader and NRA supporter once gave me a membership. This particular missive was a "GRASSROOTS ALERT."

In response to the deadly rampage in Tucson, the alert warned, various calls have been made for new gun control legislation. But I wasn't to worry.

"Please rest assured that the NRA will, as always, stand front and center in defense of the rights of gun owners," the alert said.

I was actually pleasantly surprised. Given the timing, I thought that maybe the NRA might be writing to suggest that if every student at Gardena High School had been armed, they might have been able to take out the kid with the gun before he did any damage.

Now look, we all know it's not possible to seal off every campus from every kid trying to sneak in a gun, nor will there come a day when we're all safe from gun violence, regardless of legislative initiatives. But in a country that averages 82 gunshot deaths a day, can't we do a lot better in limiting the number and type of guns, and can we please make it harder to buy a Glock than to buy a can of Coke?

Does anyone believe that Jared Lee Loughner, the accused Tucson shooter who was kicked out of college for scaring people, should have been allowed to legally buy a weapon capable of firing 31 rounds without reloading?

Does anyone believe that, unless you're on active duty in the Army, you probably don't need a 31-round clip?

Stupid questions, I know. The gun lobby bankrolls lawmakers, who know what's expected in return, and the gunslingers couldn't be happier.

There was a gun show in Tucson a week after six people were killed and 13 others wounded. That's right, a gun show, attended by thousands, some of whom bought guns like the one Loughner allegedly used at the Safeway.

And it gets crazier.

In Nebraska, a state senator introduced a bill to allow teachers and school administrators to carry concealed weapons on campuses, and that was AFTER Tucson.

In California, proud members of the "open-carry" crowd have been showing up in recent months at restaurants, coffee shops and other locales with holstered guns, as if they all think they're Rooster Cogburn.

Why?

To assert their right to do so. And yes, it's legal under California law, provided the gun is not loaded.

"What good is an unloaded gun?" asks an informational listing at www.

californiaopencarry.org. "Obviously, not much. However, with a little practice, one can easily load a handgun in under two seconds."

Terrific. You've got time to load, stir your latte and shoot six people at the next table if someone makes a false move.

The California Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, meanwhile, has launched a statewide project to demand "gun-free dining," urging restaurants to prohibit firearms on their private property.

I told Brady coordinator Karen Arntzen that if we need a conversation about whether it's OK for someone to show up at the local diner with a six-shooter, we've lost our marbles.

Is it 1823?

Do we live in Tumbleweed?

"It is outrageous," Arntzen said. "But the NRA over the last few years has had a big push to try to normalize guns all over the country....They want more guns everywhere...and behind it is the gun industry, which will sell more guns."

Thursday evening in Manhattan Beach, open-carry proponents are scheduled to strap on their sidearms and meet at a pizza parlor on Sepulveda Boulevard. Suzanne Verge, who heads the L.A. chapter of the Brady campaign, said she and others will be there to protest at the restaurant.

"If more guns meant less crime, we'd be the safest country in the world," said Verge, whose brother was murdered by a gunman in 1978.

Fortunately, state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge) has a problem with open carry, and he introduced legislation last week to ban it.

"There's a proper place for firearms, and having a proliferation of them strapped to hips is something that belongs in a Western movie, not Main Street, California," he said in a press release.

When I reached Portantino on Tuesday, he said he had been asked by two state police organizations to introduce the bill.

"They've seen a rise in people carrying a gun on their hip," Portantino said. "According to the law, you can have a gun on one hip and cartridges on another hip."

Verge told me she attended events commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and was struck by an MLK quote about "the appalling silence of the good people."

The NRA has loudly championed its views, Verge said, and it's time to pump up the volume on the other side.

"People have to take a stand on this," Verge said. "Today we lost 82 people. And tomorrow, 82."

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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