- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

LOS ANGELES A California gun owners group is encouraging a jittery public to respond to terrorist and criminal threats by embracing the deterrent power of firearms.
The 70,000-strong California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) has erected billboards across Central and Southern California saying, "Society is safe when criminals don't know who is armed."
The slogan is, in part, a poke at California's restrictive rules covering concealed weapons, rules that give local police wide powers to block concealed-weapons permits.
"The campaign was not so much designed to get people to go out and buy guns we're not a gun manufacturer, we don't make any money from getting people to go out and buy guns," said CRPA spokesman Chuck Michel, a civil-rights lawyer in Los Angeles. "It's a campaign to make people think about the legitimate and proper role of firearms in society."
The association won't say how much the campaign cost, except that it is a "six-figure" deal, but it insists that the campaign was planned and paid for before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that set off a wave of anxiety in the American public.
"The bottom line is, we think the message is as appropriate as it has ever been, if not more so," Mr. Michel said. "What has changed since Sept. 11 is people's sense of their own vulnerability. They don't take their security for granted anymore, in fact they don't take America, our freedom for granted anymore."
A gun clearly won't protect against some threats, he said, such as the wave of anthrax infections spread through the mail, but it could "come in handy" in some terrorist situations or in combating a wave of crime or civil unrest set off by the terrorist attacks.
"We're just as vulnerable as we've always been; we've just realized it now," Mr. Michel said. "We had a false sense of security. Now we recognize we're not as secure as we thought we were, and we can't necessarily depend on someone else to protect us. So people are starting to think about what it takes to be prepared for certain contingencies."
Gun sales in California, which has some of the most restrictive laws in the nation, surged more than 30 percent in the wake of the attacks.
The state attorney general's office said this week that sales of handguns, rifles and shotguns combined have averaged 9,200 per week statewide since Sept. 11, up from a previous average of about 6,900 per week.
The association won't take credit for the increase, but it says the 2-week-old billboard campaign has resulted in several hundred new members joining the organization.
Gun-control advocates dismiss the CRPA campaign as "opportunistic." They point to a similar campaign that the association ran after the Los Angeles riots in 1993. Gun sales rose to a record high of 11,500 per week in the months after the riots, but quickly fell to half the number, despite the CRPA campaign.
"You want to take a fair look at the results since [the first CRPA campaign] be my guest," said Luis Tolley, western director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Handgun sales have dropped dramatically and we've passed a lot, a lot of gun laws in the last five years."
Indeed, just last week, Gov. Gray Davis signed a new state law that dramatically tightens the state's gun-permitting process. Californians now have to watch a gun-safety video or pass a written test to buy a gun.
Under the new law, which goes into effect in 2003, Californians will have to pass a detailed written test, demonstrate the loading of their weapon, and provide a thumbprint before being allowed to buy a gun.
Mr. Michel denies his organization is trying to capitalize on the terrorist fears, although he says the campaign is designed to seize the initiative in the gun debate in California.
"If we were trying to take advantage of some irrational fear, and using scare tactics, we might be guilty as charged," Mr. Michel said. "But under the circumstances it's not that people are irrational now it's a rational response. It was rational, in fact, to be afraid before Sept. 11, but people were sort of in denial."

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