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Editorial

Hold your fire, legislators

Three Democrats who have voted to limit gun rights now want a special privilege for lawmakers.

March 16, 2011

The January shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona shocked and disturbed the nation, but one group is, perhaps justifiably, more freaked out by the incident than any other: elected officials. In response, bills have been introduced in such states as Montana and even in Congress that would make it easier for lawmakers to pack heat — the idea being that if politicians are armed, they can shoot back at a constituent who pulls a gun. This is the kind of over-the-top reaction one would expect in conservative, gun-friendly states, but when the trend hits California, some eye-rolling is in order.

Three state legislators have coauthored a bill that would make it easier for California elected officials to obtain a concealed weapons permit. Under current law, police chiefs or county sheriffs can award such permits to applicants who show "good cause" for needing one, meaning they have a dangerous job or their lives are under threat. The bill, SB 610, says the good-cause determination would be deemed to be met for any California member of Congress, statewide elected official or member of the Legislature.

The surprising thing about this bill isn't just that it has appeared in California, which tends to favor restrictive gun laws, but that its coauthors are all Democrats who in the past have voted to limit gun rights for ordinary citizens. SB 610 was introduced by Sen. Roderick Wright of Inglewood, who in 2009 voted for a bill limiting the ability of residents from rural counties to use their gun-carry permits in large urban counties; another coauthor, Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani of Tracy, voted for the same bill. The third, Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, voted for a Galgiani bill last year prohibiting the carrying of even unloaded firearms in the state Capitol.

It's understandable that lawmakers are nervous in the wake of the Giffords shooting. Correa told The Times that he has been threatened with violence in e-mails and in person. But there are plenty of reasons not to like this bill. Shootings of public officials, Giffords notwithstanding, are a rarity; young inner-city men in gang neighborhoods are at dramatically higher risk of being victims of gun violence than politicians, but there is no rush to make it easier for them to carry guns (and that's a good thing). Lawmakers who have received a specific threat can already make a case that they have good cause for a permit, without being awarded a special privilege. Armed lawmakers might feel safer, but there's little to indicate they really would be, and the image of a panicked politician spraying bullets into a crowd is worrisome. This is one bill that deserves to be shot down.

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