Gray Davis’ Cop-Killing Gun Law

Gray Davis is gone. But his destructive legacy lives on.

In the final weeks before his ouster, Davis used what dwindling power he had to hamstring California’s legal and political system for years to come. He made over 260 last-minute judicial and state commission appointments. Davis also quietly signed into law one of the most far-reaching handgun bans in the nation on September 24 – a law which threatens to send many California police officers to their graves.

Police and sheriffs all over the state pleaded with Governor Davis not to sign SB 489. But he ignored them. The law exemplifies a new trend in anti-gun activism: cop disarmament – a movement which seeks to limit the gun rights of police officers as well as civilians.

Democrats are the worst offenders, as usual. But the cop disarmament movement spans both major parties. New York City’s Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, wants to bar off-duty and former cops from carrying weapons in City Hall. Perhaps His Honor fears that one of New York’s finest might try to shoot him. “I don’t know why people carry guns,” Bloomberg famously confessed. “Guns kill people…”

“Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction is not unusual,” writes John Lott, Jr., author of The Bias Against Guns in the National Review Online. “Legislation to let off-duty and retired police carry guns with them when they travel across state lines is being held up in Congress by a threatened Senate Democratic filibuster. Sen. Ted Kennedy, (D., Mass.), who is leading the threatened filibuster claims that the measure would `do great damage to the effort of state and local governments to protect their citizens from gun violence.’ ”

Anti-gun activist Sarah Brady also opposes the bill, whose Senate designation is S253. “[I]t will… jeopardize public safety,” she says.

“What is next?” asks Lott. “Banning guns carried by on-duty officers?”

Now California’s lame-duck governor has dealt another blow to police officers’ gun rights. His new law, SB 489 requires all newly-designed, semi-automatic handguns sold in California to be equipped with two so-called “safety devices” by 2007.

The first device is a chamber load indicator, which shows whether or not a round is loaded in the firing chamber. The second is a magazine disconnect device which prevents the gun from firing once the magazine is removed.

Gun prohibitionists are delighted.

“We are so tired and sickened at heart to hear about all the children who die from guns every day, day after day,” said Jane Roth, president of the Million Mom March’s California State Council.

“This new law will prevent deaths all across the country,” gushed Eric Gorovitz, Policy Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, in a September 24 press release.

In reality, SB 489 seems poorly designed to save any lives at all. Properly trained shooters always assume that the chamber is loaded and treat their guns accordingly, with or without a mechanical indicator. Careless or irresponsible shooters are another story. Chamber load indicators may cause such people to become even more reckless than they already are. A malfunctioning indicator could lull careless shooters into assuming that the chamber is empty when it is not.

The “magazine disconnect” device offers more serious dangers.

“The law enforcement community expressly rejects the `magazine disconnect’ feature, as it seeks to disable the firearm during a magazine change, a potentially life-threatening result for an officer in a shoot-out,” states a press release from the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), a national anti-crime organization of law enforcement professionals, crime victims and concerned citizens.

Davis’ bill exempts cops from mandatory use of the new “safety” features. However, even this exemption creates new dangers for police.

“Governor Davis’ bill… exposes California law enforcement and taxpayers to additional liability risk,” says the September 25 LEAA press release. “The law officially defines guns lacking these features as `unsafe guns.’ As a result, nearly every single handgun used by California law enforcement officers will be officially defined as an `unsafe handgun,’ a notion certain to be exploited in lawsuits involving police use of firearms.”

In short, California sheriffs and police chiefs must now choose between issuing mechanically unreliable guns to their officers, or guns deemed legally “unsafe.” Either way, officers on the street will be forced to think twice before pulling the trigger – a hesitation that could well prove fatal in a shoot-out.

Anti-gun activists used to tell citizens to leave police work to the police. Now even cops must fight to retain what is left of their gun rights.

Richard Poe is a New York Times bestselling author and cyberjournalist. His last book, The Seven Myths of Gun Control, was just released in paperback. Poe’s forthcoming book, The New Underground: How Conservatives Conquered the Internet, will be available soon.