Gun Control: California Screaming

LOS ANGELES, January 17, 2007 - Two men arrested in connection with a stray shot that killed a 9-year-old girl in Angelino Heights were released without being charged after authorities determined the bullet that killed the girl was fired in self-defense, it was reported Wednesday.1



This case started out reasonably, though tragically. On December 22, 2006 the Los Angeles Police Department announced the arrest of “two key suspects [Cesar Zamora and Steven Castanon] connected with the shooting” of a 9-year-old girl, and their bail was set at $500,000 each. At the time, the girl was hospitalized in critical condition.2

Less than a month later, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office explained why they declined to bring charges against the alleged killers. (The girl died six days after being shot.) It came down to insufficient testimony from the three witnesses, with one witness initially claiming he saw Zamora shoot back at a man who got out of a car and shot first, but on two subsequent interviews claimed he never saw Zamora shoot. The DA continued:

Even if the third witness was willing to admit to his earlier statement to police, he gives a factual scenario that may give rise to a valid claim of self-defense for Zamora and Castanon; thus, it may be that the man who exited the car and attempted to fire at Zamora and Castanon provoked them into responding.3


Police were convinced this shooting was “gang-related,” but also believed Zamora and Castanon were justified because they were shot at first. Robert Pugsley, criminal law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, stated: “A person has a right of self-defense, and third-party damage, as sad as it may be, is considered an unintended consequence.” Peter Keane, professor of law and Golden Gate Law School in San Francisco, agreed. Prosecutors and police mentioned that both Zamora and Castanon were already experienced criminals when they said: “they could still charge Zamora and Castanon with a lesser crime — such as a weapons or probation violation.” There was also indication that the scene of the shooting was a “gathering point for gang associates” and the DA had “taken initial steps to have the residence declared a nuisance property” as a result.4


Perusing California law on justifiable homicide, one sees why two California law professors reached the same conclusion. California Penal Code states that homicide is justifiable: “When resisting any attempt to murder any person, or to commit a felony, or to do some great bodily injury upon any person.” It makes no specification that this force is justified only against the attacker.5 Thus, two law professors concluded that since the bullet that killed the girl was shot in self-defense against attempted murder, the shooters cannot be prosecuted for murder.

California’s gun laws receive strong approbation from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, having received a grade of A- on Brady’s latest report card, the highest grade awarded.6

Not Shocked Yet? Then Try This.

This case also started reasonable enough. On November 11, 2005, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported:

LOS ANGELES – The boyfriend of a former Burbank city councilwoman faces a maximum life sentence after pleading guilty to a charge related to his trading two handguns to a gang member in exchange for cocaine, authorities said.7


Scott Schaffer pleaded guilty to “using a handgun to further a drug trafficking crime” and faced “at least five years in prison,” according to the Burbank Police Department.

However, a February 2007 report noted that the defendant was sentenced to 13 months in prison. He expressed remorse and told the judge he did not know he was trading guns to gang members.8 Another report noted that this sentence “fell eight months shy of government prosecutors’ recommendation of 21 months in prison.”

Schaffer’s lesser sentence was due, in part, to an outpouring of letters submitted to the court on Schaffer's behalf… One letter in particular, from former Burbank Police Department Lt. Don Brown, described Schaffer in “glowing” terms…


Current members of Burbank PD were “outraged” because Schaffer “supplied guns to a member of the same gang implicated in the shooting death of Officer Matthew Pavelka in November 2003.”9


Considering the California legislature is a full-time body, reviewing about 2,500 bills each year, it seems reasonable that this loophole in self-defense law could have been addressed.10 But remember that California is home to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that a felon’s possession of a machine gun was not illegal while at the same time concluding the Second Amendment “was not adopted in order to afford rights to individuals with respect to private gun ownership or possession.” (At least the latter conclusion gave them reason to uphold his ‘felon in possession’ conviction.)11

So consider this: If you were an anti-gun politician looking for a way to get public support, how would you do it? You could:

·        Create self-defense law that is intentionally vague, neglecting to include language that specifically justifies defensive use of lethal force only against the attacker.

·        Promote a judicial system that is lenient towards felons, declaring that in an enlightened society, these folk need to be understood and appreciated as victims of materialism; disadvantaged socially and economically.

·        Condemn incarceration for the same reason.

·        Create and strictly enforce gun laws only against heretofore law-abiding citizens, e.g.: require registration (Handgun Safety Certificate12) and then classify guns as “assault weapons”13 thus clearing a path for government-approved confiscation.

·        Declare that your hands are tied and that the only way to get guns out of the hands of felons is to ban them completely.

If a 9-year-old and a cop get murdered in the process, well…it’s for the greater good.

About the Author

Howard Nemerov is an investigative analyst for NRA News. He can be reached at HNemerov [at sign]


[1] Two Men Arrested in Fatal Shooting Released, ABC-7, January 17, 2007.

2 Two Arrested in Shooting of 9 Year Old, Los Angeles Police Department, December 22, 2006.

3 DA Explains Release Of Suspects In Girl’s Shooting Death, NBC-4, January 17, 2007.

4 Richard Winton and Tami Abdollah, 2 men freed in L.A. girl’s killing, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2007.,0,520022.story

5 California Penal Code, Title 8–Of Crimes Against the Person, Chapter 1–Homicide, Penal Code 187-199, Official California Legislative Information.

6 Brady Campaign State Report Cards Show State Legislatures Are Failing to Protect Kids from the Dangers of Illegal Guns, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, April 2006. (Use drop-down list to select each state’s 2005 grade.)

7 Associated Press, Boyfriend of ex-Burbank councilwoman pleads guilty to gun charge, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 11, 2005.

8 53-Year-Old Scott Schaffer Expressed Remorse, KFWB News 980, February 13, 2007.

9 Chris Wiebe, Businessman is sentenced, Glendale News Press, February 13, 2007.

10 About Legislative Government, California State Government Guide, League of Women Voters of California, August 22, 2005.

11 United States v. Stewart, No. 02-10318, November 13, 2003, page 16078.

12 Handgun Safety Certificate Program, Office of the Attorney General, State of California.

13 2007 Dangerous Weapons Control Law, Office of the Attorney General, State of California.

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