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Much as the 1989 Stockton school yard shooting led to a California "assault weapon" ban that was used as a model in other states for their own semi-auto bans, the anti-gun political climate in California today stems in large part from the tragic and infamous rampage by Gian Luigi Ferri on July 1, 1993 at the 101 California Street law office in San Francisco. Eight people were killed and six injured. San Francisco has always been anti-gun, with Los Angeles a close second. Lawyers in both cities passed resolutions in 1974 and the early '90's calling for a complete ban on the private possession of handguns and semi-automatic rifles. And San Francisco has gone so far as to pass a 1982 law banning the civilian possession of handguns entirely (the ban was invalidated by an NRA lawsuit). But the 1993 shootings galvanized a segment of the San Francisco legal community, and in response they banded together to further their gun prohibition goals.

First, they filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ferri's victims to advance creative legal arguments to expand the liability of firearms manufacturers and distributors for the criminal misuse of their products. The case languished for years and was ultimately dismissed by the trial court in 1997. But the dismissal was appealed, and in 1999 the California Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that a gun manufacturer could be held liable for negligently marketing its firearms. Thankfully, the California Supreme Court has accepted the case for review and may overturn the ruling. However, this suit was a precursor to and developed theories that were filed by a number of cities across the country against gunmakers and distributors.

San Francisco anti-self-defense legal activists also formed a group called the Legal Community Against Violence (LCAV) (, which received millions in funding from The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) ( TCWF is a nonprofit foundation with billions in assets spun off from profits made by Health Net. To advance its liberal agenda, TCWF has over the past five years pumped roughly $50 million into anti-self-defense efforts by various gun control advocacy groups in California, including a $9 million media campaign vilifying firearms and those who own them. The TCWF campaigns were instrumental in starting the now national trend of mischaracterizing the issue of firearms violence as a health issue, and guns as a "disease"-- and also in driving the misleading "polls" that legislators use to justify their anti-gun proposals.

Armed with TCWF and other special interest funding, the LCAV lawyers teamed up in office space shared with Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), and started their "Local Ordinance Project," a campaign to get California cities to pass local ordinances restricting gun rights -- with an eye toward getting the measures passed at the state and eventually the national level. Misusing BATF tracing statistics to justify its efforts, in 1996 LCAV first published and distributed to local officials thousands of "how-to" manuals on drafting local gun-control ordinances. The centerpiece of its campaign was a drastically over broad ordinance supposedly banning affordable self-defense handguns, so called "Saturday Night Specials." Putting gun dealers out of business and banning guns shows are also high on LCAV's list. West Hollywood was the first to adopt the affordable self-defense handgun ban, followed by roughly 30 other cities in 1997. Since then, LCAV has solidified ties with HCI and other anti-self-defense groups and continues to lobby state and local officials to expand gun regulations. Updated manuals are distributed each year.

The NRA/CRPA Response

In response to the LCAV/HCI efforts, NRA and CRPA went on the counterattack. First, NRA and CRPA attorneys filed suit against West Hollywood, and later against Sacramento for their affordable self-defense handgun bans. Then NRA and CRPA attorneys worked with grassroots NRA and CRPA members to combat the handgun bans city-by-city - something even the tobacco companies couldn't manage when a similar local-control strategy was used against them in California. Though a number of cities passed the ordinance campaign in 1997 before the NRA and CRPA got the facts out, from 1998 - 1999 the ordinance was stopped cold in roughly 100 other cities where LCAV/HCI lobbied to pass it. Hundreds of other cities refused to even consider it.

The coordinated efforts became the NRA and CRPA California "Local Ordinance Project," a statewide campaign to fight ill-conceived local efforts at gun control. Along with their centerpiece ban on affordable self-defense handguns, in the past three years cities have been bombarded with LCAV/HCI anti-gun proposals, including proposed complete bans on the possession of "assault weapons" (where that term is defined far more broadly than under the state law) and "sniper rifles," bans on magazines that hold over 10 rounds, one gun-per-month restrictions, ammo sales registration bureaucracies, "trigger lock" laws that prohibit many guns from being sold because no trigger lock exists that fits the gun, "safe" storage laws that would make criminals of those who keep a gun ready to use for self-defense, ultra-restrictive zoning laws that put gun dealers out of business, oppressive gun and ammo taxes, and most recently, pending proposals to ban ammo sales entirely in Los Angeles and to ban "ultra-compact" handguns (any gun under 6 3/4 inches long or under 4 1/2 inches tall) in San Francisco. (An NRA and CRPA lawsuit challenging the new handgun ban is being drafted.)

NRA and CRPA have always been aggressive in litigation in California courts on behalf of their members and to promote the right to self-defense and the Second Amendment. For example, in 1989, shortly after the state legislature passed the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Control Act banning certain traditional semi-automatic firearms, the NRA and CRPA and others filed a suit in Sacramento. That suit resulted in an appeals court decision invalidating the law. The case was accepted by the California Supreme Court, and a decision is pending. NRA is currently litigating on behalf of the Great Western Show against the County of Los Angeles in U.S. District Court, Los Angeles. Los Angeles County at the behest of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, passed an ordinance banning the "sale" of firearms on county property. The ordinance is specifically designed to prohibit the sale of firearms on county owned property within the territorial limits of the City of Pomona, i.e., the Fairplex, where the Great Western Show has been held four times a year for almost 30 years. The ordinance defines "sale" so broadly that it includes any momentary transfer or possession or control of firearm. An injunction was granted stopping the ordinance. The County has appealed. NRA and CRPA are now litigating against eh County of Alameda against a similar ordinance. The County of Alameda went further than Los Angeles County, entirely banning the possession of firearms on county property.

To take the offensive, NRA and CRPA expanded the "Local Ordinance Project" and its litigation efforts by creating a number of Operations and Projects: "Project Educate" is a direct mail campaign to get the facts to local officials/

"Operation Clean-up" is a city-by-city review of outdated and preempted local gun-control laws by NRA and CRPA lawyers, and has resulted in the repeal of local semi-auto bans, one-gun-a-month laws, magazine bans, bans on the sale of air guns and toy guns, local "waiting periods," and other antiquated local laws.

"Operation Recover" was started in response to member complaints about police seizing firearms without justification and refusing to return them. NRA and CRPA lawyers sent out hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain local law enforcement policies on firearm seizures and returns. These reviews, and accompanying lawsuits, including one against he City of Los Angeles, have resulted in many law enforcement agency policy revisions. The project is ongoing and more agencies are expected to revise their policies so that firearms can only be seized when authorized by law, and so that those who have their property seized are advised of their rights and the procedures for having it returned.

"Operation Reveal" again used hundreds of FOIA requests to obtain local policies and procedures on issuing permits to carry concealed firearms (CCW) in public. This ongoing project has just begun to uncover the cronyism and corruption that permeates the CCW process in California.

Through some cities passed some of these laws, NRA and CRPA along with member grassroots efforts, along with roughly two dozen lawsuits, have stopped the laws in hundreds more, and stymied what HCI hoped would be a state and local sweep. Only the 1998 elections change in the composition of the California state legislature made it possible for the HCI/LCAV to advance its gun ban agenda at the state level. Bills that mandate one-gun-a-month, trigger locks, an expanded semi-auto ban, and other gun control laws were passed, and many others were proposed. Ironically many of those new state gun control laws "preempt" and thus invalidate the more restrictive local versions. Recently, the state legislature has gone so far as to submit legislation that would require complete handgun registration and owner licensing - step two in HCI founder Pete Shield's touted three-step plan for handgun confiscation: (1) restrict manufacturing, i.e., the City suits; (2) register all handguns; and (3) ban and confiscate them.

Surprisingly, the election of Democrat Gray Davis has stalled the flood of new state law proposals - for now. Davis remembers how the "sleeping tiger" of self-defense civil rights activists has been awakened in the past, and he's apparently not willing to bet on poll-based claims of anti-self-defense politicians that the will of the public has completely changed on the issue. But the anti-gun politicians in Sacramento are already whispering about how Davis' position could change if there is another high publicity tragedy. They are just waiting for one to happen.

The efforts of such anti-gun forces are already being felt nationally. California's 1989 ban on semi-autos ("assault weapons") has been adopted in other states and created the impetus for the 1994 federal law. The product liability theories developed in the 101 California Street case are being used in the roughly two dozen lawsuits filed by cities across the country against gun manufacturers. The false "guns are a disease" health care model was largely formulated in California. California's Senators Diane Fienstein and Barbara Boxer are among the most rabid anti-self-defense politicians in Washington, leading many federal efforts to export California's anti-self-defense philosophy. Most recently, the LCAV has extended its reach, launching the national "Second Amendment Education Project," which it started with full-page ads in the national media misleading the public about the legal academic community's interpretation of the meaning of the Second Amendment. LCAV's Web site ominously brags that "LCAV is developing a strategic plan to respond to requests for legal and technical assistance from cities and counties outside of California. Local leaders in many states are interested in preventing violence through the use of local ordinances. We intend to offer assistance to communities in other states in the near future by coordinating pro bono legal assistance that will facilitate the development, drafting and defense of legally sound, violence prevention strategies."

Count your lucky stars if you are blessed to live in a state that appreciates how guns save lives through deterrence and defense. But don't think HCI, LCAV, and other gun control advocates in California aren't planning to export their philosophies to your city. Get behind NRA and CRPA's efforts while you can still point to the left coast and say, "It couldn't happen here." Otherwise it will.

C.D. "Chuck" Michel was formerly a prosecutor in Los Angeles and staff counsel to the Christopher Commission investigating corruption in the LAPD in wake of the Rodney King incident. He now practices civil rights law, including defending the fundamental right to self-defense and is currently the attorney of record representing both NRA and CRPA in their joint efforts to combat the ongoing legal issues that face responsible California firearms owners.
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