L.A.'s armed for self-defense // Post-riot gun sales climb 63%

  Haya El Nasser;Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1992)


  LOS ANGELES - The minute the riots erupted, college student Young Park

  rushed to buy a semiautomatic pistol.


  The riots ended more than a month ago. But Park, 23, is still packing a Smith &

  Wesson .22-caliber - at all times.


  That's illegal, but not uncommon in a city police fear is becoming an armed



  The three-day orgy of arson and looting sent citizens on a gun-buying spree:

  more than 46,000 guns sold since the April 29 riots through May 22.


  That's more than a 63% jump from the same period last year, says the California

  Department of Justice.


  The self-defense frenzy is causing many to cross the line of legality. And that's

  making law enforcement very nervous.


  ``You can have that gun in your business, in your home,'' says Los Angeles

  Police Lt. John Dunkin. ``What you cannot do is carry it around loaded in your

  car, you can't carry it in your purse or on your belt.''


  But people like Park would rather take their chances with police than with



  ``Unless it's on you, it's useless,'' he says. ``I'm not worried about the police.

  They're not around when you need them.''


  Jim Farley, 37, of Valencia - which wasn't touched by rioting - has been

  practicing firing his .38-caliber revolver.


  ``I think the riots are just the beginning,'' he says. ``The next big riots will be

  after an earthquake. ... I will be prepared.''


  Police empathize - to a point - with those who feel safer with a gun at their side.


  ``I think there would be an awful temptation (to carry a gun) if you bought a gun

  to defend yourself,'' Dunkin says.


  But police say that by arming themselves, people are just making a bad situation



  Weapons - even those obtained legally - often wind up in the hands of criminals,

  Dunkin says, because handguns are a favorite booty of burglars.


  Anti-gun activists say more guns mean more violence.


  ``People have the illusion that a handgun is going to make them safe when ... it's

  going to endanger their lives,'' says Jeff Muchnick of the Coalition to Stop Gun



  Muchnick cites a 1990 FBI report that showed there were 215 justifiable

  homicides by handgun vs. more than 11,000 other handgun homicides that year.

  A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that for every self-

  defense handgun killing, there are 43 other deaths by gun.


  Since the riots, federal agents have tried to recover at least 5,000 guns and an

  undetermined amount of ammunition stolen from gun stores.


  In the week after the riots, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms made

  21 raids - but seized only 80 guns despite calls flooding the new 800-

  ATF-GUNS tips hot line.


  ``In the wake of two successive record-setting years for homicide, it's

  discouraging that there are even more guns in the hands of criminals,'' says

  Sheriff's Deputy Bill Wehner.


  Dunkin cautions against citizens arming themselves: ``You go out and buy a gun,

  you put it in the nightstand drawer and maybe you go out and shoot five or six

  rounds every once in a while. That burglar is gonna take that gun away from you

  and kill you with it.''


  But at The Firing Line, an indoor shooting range in Northridge, Saturday classes

  have been booked for the past three weeks and Sunday classes had to be added.


  ``I have no one to protect me,'' says 5-foot-tall Cinzia Morelli, 28, a Sherman

  Oaks secretary firing a .357 Magnum for the first time. ``If someone comes into

  my house uninvited, they're dead.''


  CUTLINE:AT FIRING RANGE: Jim Farley, shooting a .38-caliber pistol, says

  `the riots are just the beginning. The next big riots will be after an earthquake. ...

  I will be prepared.'

  PHOTO;b/w,Mark J. Terrill,AP