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February 28 marked 20 years since bank robbers Larry Phillips and Emil Matasareanu engaged in a full-blown firefight with police outside the Bank of America on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in North Hollywood. Both deployed fully automatic rifles illegal to possess at the time. They sprayed anything that moved, firing even at television news helicopters. Viewers across the country saw the shootout unfold and as the twentieth anniversary approached, news accounts recalled the battle. Few, if any, noted how officers had gained the upper hand.
In the early going, the officers’ 9mm pistols were no match for the robo-robbers’ firepower. So the outgunned cops headed to nearby B&B Sales, a private gun store. The owner recognized some of the officers as previous customers and, overlooking the 15-day waiting period a typical civilian would face before being able to legally obtain firearms, quickly supplied them with four 5.56mm Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines and two Remington shotguns with rifled slugs. Once the officers were on a more equal footing, they plunged back into the fray, taking down the bad guys with no loss of innocent life.
The shootout prompted calls for stricter gun control but the robo-robbers’ weapons were already illegal and violent criminals do not follow gun laws. As we noted, the six gun-control bills governor Jerry Brown signed last year impose background checks to purchase ammunition, ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds and even restrict the loaning of guns to close family members. Brown’s budget package also slid $5 million to the California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis, which will probe who owns guns, why they own them and how they use firearms. As Stephen P. Halbrook noted in Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State” Germany’s National Socialist regime also wanted to know “who owns guns” and they ruthlessly suppressed firearm ownership by disfavored groups.
Californians can be forgiven for thinking that new gun laws burden law-abiding citizens more than they restrict the violent criminals who flout the law.