Assembly catfight over guns
May 22, 2012
By Katy Grimes
Retribution in politics isn’t unusual. Every year we witness members of the Legislature receiving punishment from party leadership, often followed by banishment to a tiny office and committee assignments taken away.
That’s the prerogative of party leadership.
However, Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, has taken aim at a fellow member of the Assembly in a very public way. Torres authored AB 2182, which would require a police officer to arrest anyone for carrying a concealed handgun into an airport without a concealed weapons permit.
In the Assembly Monday, Torres said that last year there were 64 such gun incidents at airports, but only 34 of the offenders were taken to the police station; the other 30 were cited and released.
“African Americans and professional athletes are treated differently than business men and members of the Assembly,” Torres said.
As soon as Torres said this, the Assembly chambers ignited with chatter, laughs and stares at one member of the Assembly.
In Torres’ sights is Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, from Hesperia. In January, Donnelly was stopped by the TSA in the Ontario airport for having a loaded pistol in his carry-on luggage. Donnelly told authorities that he forgot that the weapon was in his briefcase. He was charged by police with a misdemeanor.
Torres tried to claim on Monday that this bill was not aimed at Donnelly, and that actually she and her staff have been working on this since last fall. However, the bill was introduced in February, on the last day to introduce legislation, and after Donnelly had his dust-up.
When the bill was first introduced, Torres had language written in that even tried to ban the perpetrator from using the same airport in which a gun incident takes place. But that language was amended out of the bill in April. If there is any doubt of Torres’ intentions, the now-removed amended language should make it clear: “The bill would ban a person who is subsequently found guilty from entering the airport, and would make it a misdemeanor to enter the airport where the offense occurred.”
“This bill is an insult to this institution, and to the citizens of California,” Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, retorted. “It’s an insult to everybody.”
AB 2182 “is a direct attack on a member of this Legislature,” Jones said. “This is just an opportunity to bloviate, and get more recognition for ourselves,” Jones added. “None of us are perfect.”
Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, challenged Torres and asked her to specify the intent of her bill, asking, “Crime or negligence?”
Torres seemed flustered and instead read from the notes she had with her, explaining how the law currently defines a lawful, responsible gun owner. “This bill is about irresponsible gun owners,” Torres said.
Jones asked for Torres to answer the question, and Wagner accused her of filibustering. “This bill is an embarrassment,” Wagner said.
And then, Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, called out a point of order, asking Wagner to allow Torres to answer the question.
This was a moment of hilarity as it was evident to everyone in the room except Calderon that Torres did not want to answer the question, but now was faced with coming up with an answer.
Torres read again from her notes, but Wagner wasn’t satisfied. “We all know what this is about,” he said.
Torres told the Assembly that the comments about her bill were insulting, and at this time claimed that she had been working on it since the fall.
The Donnelly incident
Donnelly was charged with carrying a loaded firearm in public without a concealed weapons permit and possessing a gun in an airport, misdemeanors, and punishable by up to 18 months in jail and $2,000 in fines.
Donnelly later said that the incident was an “unfortunate mistake,” and that he had forgotten that he had the gun in his briefcase after placing it there while working in his home garage.
Donnelly was sentenced to three years on probation and a $2,215 fine.
The bill analysis done by the Public Safety Committee pointed out that, with all misdemeanors, offenders are cited and released unless already guilty of other charges, or “a likelihood the offense would continue, or safety of persona or property is endangered.”
But the other question raised by the committee staff was if there was a reason to treat this misdemeanor differently than most misdemeanors: “Is there a demonstrable need to delete law enforcement’s discretion to cite and release in the case of carrying a concealed weapon within an airport?”
“This is all a big waste of time,” said Jones after the hearing. “It’s an abuse of power, and a waste of time by the Legislative counsel, Assembly staff, and the time of three different committees.”
“What an embarrassment by the Legislature,” Jones said, “like a junior high cat fight.”