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Do gun restrictions work? LA's sheriff weighs in

Rina Palta (KPCC)

L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca (far right) stands with two sheriff's deputies who were shot at with an AK-47 (similar to the one in Baca's hands) on January 8 in Lynwood.

On Tuesday night, two L.A. sheriff's deputies were out on patrol near Lynwood when they heard gunfire.

Driving towards the sound of shots, the deputies saw a man lying on the ground and a car speeding away. They called for medical help and pursued the car. 

Not long after, says Deputy Chris Gomez, "when the rifle was pointed at us and we saw muzzle flashes," he and Deputy Laura Perales realized a man in the passenger seat of the fleeing vehicle was shooting at them with an assault rifle.

After a brief car chase (that ended in a crash), deputies took one of the suspects into custody and picked up the other a short time later. None of the deputies were hit and paramedics took the shooting victim to the hospital.

Sheriff's deputies also recovered the rifle, an AK-47, and a 30-round clip. The clip and the AK-47, along with similar guns, are banned for sale under California's relatively strict gun laws.

"At the same time, how easy is it to get one of these military weapons, if you're a gang member? I say it's pretty easy," said L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca. Where do they come from?

"From other states," Baca said. "When we closed the gun store in Compton, the ATF agents were able to trace 700 of the weapons we had seized. Weapons were being purchased in Arizona, in Pennsylvania, in Connecticut,  and other parts of the United States and brought to Compton because straw buyers can buy anything they want."

"Straw buyers" typically means people with clean criminal records who purchase guns legally from retailers or dealers and then pass or sell them to others. 

"There needs to be penalties for straw buyers and there's a lot of discussion that can go into this," Baca said.

Baca said his department hasn't noticed an alarming number of such weapons, but this is certainly not the first time someone's shot at sheriff's deputies with an assault rifle that the law says shouldn't be on the streets.

Yet, Baca said he thinks that California's gun laws - some of the strictest in the nation - have helped reduce gun violence. 

"There's been a large decrease in violent crimes in California and I think a lot of it is our ability to manage weapons in a manner that's fair to the gun enthusiast and difficult for the criminal," Baca said.  "Criminal will still do what they can to bypass California laws, but we do know that laws dictate behavior."

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