By Ben Griffiths
I grew up in a gun-free household in the outskirts of Los Angeles. I shot a few times with the Boy Scouts on my way to becoming an Eagle, so I was familiar with firearms, but that was my only firearms experience. My perception of firearms drastically changed in the summer of 1998 when I witnessed a poorly planned, poorly executed bank robbery . . .
I was on my way to my summer job and decided to stop by a bank near the university I was to attend that fall in order to open an account. It was 8:15 AM or so and I was ready to open the account and then hit the road for a long drive.
As I stood at the first window to make my deposit, a man walked in with a gun held high and announced “This is a stick up! Nobody be a hero….” I kid you not. He had no gloves, no mask, and put finger and shoe prints all over the counter without a thought as he hopped over.
He did not point the gun at me, but I recognized the weapon as he emptied out the cash drawer directly in front of me. It was a Ruger P94. My friend had one just like it. I had a strong case of tunnel vision…I was focused in on that firearm. In that moment, I registered the cocked hammer, the red painted safety dot that indicated the safety was off, and his finger tight on the trigger. I will never forget how he jammed the stacks of cash into a collection of mismatched cloth and paper bags as he made his way down the line of cash drawers.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the bank’s alarm system wasn’t functioning, a fact that in hindsight should have influenced my banking selection. The police had no idea we were being robbed until one of the desk employees called 9-1-1. “We are getting robbed… am I supposed to call you guys?” You can’t make this stuff up.
Our intrepid bank robber had just hopped back over the counter and was on his way to the door when one of the greasy McDonald’s bags tore open and money spilled out onto the floor. He proceeded to kneel down, placing the gun on the floor to pick up the cash. I remember being flabbergasted by both his casual treatment of time, and his stupidity.
Not one person in the bank was close enough to intervene physically, so after what seemed like an eternity he finished cleaning up the cash, stood, and exited the bank.
As he rounded the exterior corner of the bank, the first policeman screeched up alone in his patrol car. Without missing a beat the bank robber fired five shots at the car, striking the cop and making his escape.
We later found out (while being locked up with the FBI in the bank all day – thanks for the pizza guys!) that the one bullet to make it through the windshield had hit the steering wheel. The bullet sheared into two portions, the larger of which careened over the officer’s shoulder. The smaller portion fragmented, striking him in the face and eye. He later made a full recovery.
The bank robbery changed my life. The idea that a criminal could take control of my life through the mere possession of arms bounced around in my brain all summer.
That fall I secured a job at the local gun store and also obtained my first handgun with a shiny new CCW permit to match. I focused every future research paper for the rest of my academic career on the negative effects of gun control, all while carrying a handgun every day. I became a firearm advocate’s advocate.
Fast forward. I have seven years’ of daily experience carrying a firearm on my person. I have three permits to do so (NV, FL, & UT, one of which I have had for more than 15 years without incident). I am a Distinguished Graduate from Front Sight, earned while taking well over 100 hours of what I consider excellent defensive handgun training. We take our kids there for a week every year as a family vacation, and they have been known to say that they like it more than Disneyland.
I am not trying to trumpet my awesomeness here, nor my dedication to the fraternity or firearms… I am just laying groundwork for the point of this opus.
I moved back to Los Angeles to take over the family business…behind enemy lines as it were. You can imagine how I felt when I was hit by the avalanche of negativity that is the California gun culture. Even so, I decided to take a run at LASD’s permitting process. I was determined to submit an application the likes of which the petty pencil pushers in the CCW department had never seen.
My application was a work of art.
Eagle scout. No criminal record. Business owner providing for the livelihood of 20 employees and contractors (as well as my family of seven). Volunteer clergy member. Deposit records for both church and business. CCW history documentation. A personal recommendation from then Chairman of the Joint Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon. A personal recommendation from a 10-year LA SWAT supervisor. A personal recommendation from my local LASD satellite office (we are in unincorporated Los Angeles County).
I even had the whole thing organized with color-coded and labeled tabs, held neatly together in a black folder no less than an inch thick. How could they deny something so perfect, right?
When the rubber-stamped denial came back, I was halfway surprised despite my negative expectations.
The letter stated,
…convincing evidence of a clear and present danger refers to a current situation which involves a specific person(s) who has threatened an individual and who has displayed a pattern of behavior which would suggest that the threat(s) could be carried out.
I called to appeal (repeatedly) and was told there is no appeals process.
I then called a few of the big 2A law firms, but was told that they were no longer looking for the perfect case to run up the flagpole of our court system. (If you are a law firm and want a poster child in California, give me a call. I am still willing.)
I even wrote a letter after our last Sherriff left office, asking our new Sherriff to review my case. I was told that LASD has not changed their issuance policy and I did not qualify for a permit.
It makes me cringe every time I hear a call for “reasonable” gun restrictions, because this is not reasonable by any measure. When I have the person who is making said call in front of me (or on Facebook), I educate them about my position by telling them my story.
Every liberal I have approached has sympathized with my plight. They all think I am the type of person who should be carrying. They always clarify their stance immediately by then saying, “It’s those CRAZY people we are trying to keep from getting a gun.”
My point to them and anyone else who will listen is this: when government controls who can exercise a right, it becomes at best a privilege, but more commonly becomes a right denied.
I am now part of a huge population that is denied a basic human right, one more fundamental than any pretend discussion that floats across the public consciousness in today’s ever-shortening news cycle. For now, Peruta is a distant legal hope for me, and I remain a person who can only protect myself, my employees and my family through civil disobedience at great risk to everything I hold dear.
How is that reasonable?