Bakersfield lawmaker carries gun for self-defense

Bakersfield lawmaker carries gun for self-defense
Freshman Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, is seen in a photo taken from her district website.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Legislature will not disclose the identities of four lawmakers who sought to carry concealed weapons inside the state Capitol and other legislative buildings, even though all four are publicly known.

On Monday, the state Senate cited exemptions in the Legislative Open Records Act as it rejected an inquiry from The Associated Press. The Assembly previously also cited privacy and security concerns in denying the AP's request for the lawmakers' identities.

Four Assembly members have told the AP they were the ones who asked to bring their guns to work for self-defense: Democrat Tony Mendoza of Artesia, and three Republicans: Shannon Grove of Bakersfield; Allan Mansoor of Costa Mesa; and David Valadao of Hanford.

A law that took effect this year requires everyone except peace officers to get permission from the Legislature before bringing their guns into legislative buildings, even if they have a concealed weapons permit from a local sheriff.

The Assembly Rules Committee cited three reasons for denying the AP's request under the Legislature's records act, which was written by lawmakers. It is much more restrictive than the California Public Records Act, which governs disclosures by other state and local agencies.

The response said the Legislature can withhold the identities because "the public interest served by not making the record public clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record." It also said the gun permits were private "correspondence of and to individual members of the Legislature and their staff" and cited an exemption for "records of security procedures."

It doesn't matter that the four legislators have acknowledged their identities, said Jon Waldie, the Assembly's administrative officer.

"The names may be out there, but are they the right four?" Waldie said. "Security issues remain, as well as the need to protect correspondence."

The Senate on Monday cited similar exemptions in declining to disclose correspondence between the two legislative chambers that would have named the four assembly members.

Mendoza said he is not concerned about security at the Capitol, particularly since Assembly sergeants began carrying handguns last month. However, he wants to bring his weapon into his district office. The former elementary school teacher represents southern Los Angeles County and part of Orange County.

"I've had gang members threaten my life," he said. "I come home different times of the day and night, I do a lot of community events, I do legislation on gangs ... I don't want to say it's dangerous, but it can be."

He described his district office as part of a large building that sits away from other developments.

"It can feel unsafe, particularly when you're out there alone on a weekend or something," he said.

Grove, a military veteran, said she carries her weapon while driving between Bakersfield and Sacramento, often late at night. She wanted to store it at the Capitol, she said, and not carry it into the Assembly chamber itself. She said she has since made other arrangements to lock up her gun.

Mansoor said in a statement that he has routinely carried a concealed weapon since he joined the Orange County Sheriff's Department nearly 20 years ago.

Valadao's chief of staff, Tal Eslick, said the assemblyman's concealed carry permit was granted years ago by Kings County. Valadao lives on a rural dairy farm and wanted the permit to protect himself and his family, he said.

"Assemblyman Valadao sometimes carries it in. It's not something he does every day," Eslick said.

Valadao, Grove and Mansoor were elected to the Assembly in November. Mendoza was elected in 2006. It's unknown how many other lawmakers previously carried weapons, because they did not have to seek permission until this year.

The identities of the four Assembly members were first disclosed by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Assembly Speaker John Perez asked his sergeant-at-arms to rescind the gun permits last month while the Assembly reviews safety and security measures at the Capitol and in lawmakers' district offices.

Perez, D-Los Angeles, previously said he also owns a gun but believes the job of protecting members in the Capitol should be left to the California Highway Patrol and the sergeants-at-arms.

Visitors must pass through metal detectors to enter the Capitol, and armed CHP officers guard each entrance. Sergeants-at-arms in the 80-member Assembly began carrying handguns full-time last month in response to recent threats against state lawmakers and the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January.

The sergeants-at-arms in the 40-member Senate do not carry weapons. Tony Beard, the Senate's chief sergeant, previously said no senator has asked to carry a weapon inside the Capitol.