Torrance’s outdated gun laws
Torrance’s severe gun control laws have been loosened by two separate, but related legal cases solved with so little fanfare that even attorneys who follow the issue closely were ignorant of the changes.
The most far-reaching of the two separate court cases affected authorities in nine Western states, including the city of Torrance.
The other involved the repeal of old municipal statutes dating from 1950 that prevailed on the books even though they infringed state and federal law. Those laws, targeted by a gun rights activist who went against the city and won.
Significantly, the city has begun issuing carry hidden weapons licenses in the wake of a landmark 2014 court decision that struck down a stipulation that members of the public needed “good cause” before obtaining such a permit.
In that process, Peruta v. San Diego, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals commanded that any law-abiding resident has the right to carry a handgun for lawful security in public.
“The Peruta opinion has coaxed many jurisdictions the appropriate policy choice is to allow people to get the CCW (licenses),” said Long Beach attorney Chuck Michel, who represents the National Rifle Association in the state and appealed the case to the court.
Former Torrance Police Chief John Neu said in 2012 that he had passed just one CCW permit since becoming chief in 2006. The department had got only about a dozen CCW requests during that time, largely because the strict conditions dissuaded most from even bothering to apply.
However, in a suggestion of how much the climate has changed since late 2014 Torrance has issued 17 CCW permits while rejecting just five.
“This action puts Torrance with some other cities in the top of this national debate about the right to carry arms,” said Michel, who was oblivious to the abrupt policy change in the town.
Presumably, the determination to keep the policy switch under the radar happened because cities like Torrance could well be overwhelmed with CCW applications were it more broadly known, Michel speculated.
Typically, about 2 to 5 percent of individuals in any given jurisdiction want a CCW, permit Michel said.
After the court resolution, Orange County was forced to allocate about $8 million to hire inspectors to conduct background checks on CCW petitioners, he said.
There’s no guarantee the decision will stand.
“After discussion with outside counsel, we continue to review and process CCW applications, and the legal ‘good cause’ condition through the lens of the Peruta resolution,” Police Chief Mark Matsuda said in a statement.
“The permits issued through this time are for six-month increments and can be revoked if the Court of Appeal cancels the three-judge panel’s decision.”
Unconstitutional city law
The second court process involved gun rights activist Mindy Costa, who grew up in the city and certified in 1996 from Torrance High School.
After spending 11 years in the Army, including a tour of duty in Iraq, Costa returned to her home with the goal of taking criminal justice classes at El Camino College. She contemplated applying to the Torrance Police Department to become a police officer.
At the same time, Costa was active in South Bay Open Carry, a movement whose members support openly carrying firearms in public.
To avoid potential law enforcement, the group adjusted its activism with the similarities of the Torrance Police Department.
That rebounded on Costa, however, when in November 2011 she gave police a heads-up about an open carry event at a local establishment.
Undercover Torrance officers followed Costa and two other activists and pulled over by a Lomita sheriff’s deputy for carrying a hidden weapon in a vehicle, even though she contended the gun in question was in a locked case as state law required.
She eventually was charged with a misdemeanor, but Costa, arguing that the law is at best misapplied — she bluntly disputes she was framed — refused a plea agreement in the case, triggering a long criminal and civil legal odyssey.
“The whole thing was amazingly set up,” Costa said. “The last time I checked this was still America, and I can have a gun in my car as I abide by state law.”
In fact, her civil lawyer disputed the old laws not only violated state law but were also unconstitutional because they completely banned gun ownership in the city.
Jason Davis of Mission Viejo-based Davis & Associates, who represented Costa, said he was not surprised the ancient laws were still on the books; government agencies often fail to perform basic housekeeping to get rid of outmoded ordinances.
“What was surprising was that they were enforcing them,” he said. “I do not think they were aware until we informed them that it was unconstitutional.”
Nevertheless, it took months of lawsuit warnings before the City Council got around to repealing the old laws — along with some others including one that forbade unmarried couples from living together — in August 2014.
However, when it did so, there was no staff report on the council agenda and no information presented about the basis for the action.
“They do it quietly, so no one knows what’s going on,” Davis said. “I do not think anybody wants to tell folks they have violated the law for years.”
In the meantime, to end with the criminal case, Costa reluctantly agreed to plead no dispute to the state charge, gave a $600 fine and completed 60 hours of community service.
Consequently, both criminal charges were dismissed and wiped from her record as if they never happened.