San Bernadino City Attorney Stands by “Load Your Guns” Comment

James Penman (Source: City of San Bernadino)

The Southern California city of San Bernadino is facing hard times. Its police force is shrinking to 260, which is down 80 from its peak. Murders are up over 50%. That compelled City Attorney James Penman to offer advice to residents last week: “Lock your doors and load your guns.”

“Let’s be honest, we don’t have enough police officers. We have too many criminals living in this city. We have had 45 murders this year. That’s far too high for a city of this size,” Penman said.

Penman shouldn’t have been surprised that his comments generated considerable criticism, but it seems that he was taken back by the uproar. A few days later, Penman stood by his advice with an amendment:

“When I tell people to go home and lock your doors and load your guns, I’m talking to people who own guns. Because, obviously, if you don’t have a gun in your house, you’re not going to load it. I do not advocate that people who do not have guns, or who do not know how to use guns, should pick up a firearm that’s been in the cabinet for years and load it. Or go out and buy one. That would be irresponsible.”

It’s good to get that cleared up. Advice from the city attorney is that “if you don’t have a gun in your house, you’re not going to load it.” I doubt if most residents needed to be informed of that.

Basically, what Penman is saying is that crime is out of control. If you have a gun, then have it ready to use. If you don’t have a gun, then you’re out of luck.

Penman missed the obvious when he said his first comment. When a city official starts telling people to load their guns, the first people who are going to load them are not the ones who know how to use them but those who have limited experience with them. They are the ones who are going to feel the most threatened.

Councilman Fred Shorett pointed out that Penman was way over the line as a public official.

“I think it’s the wrong message to be sending to our citizenry. I’m an NRA member and a hunter, but I don’t think it’s our place to be publicly suggesting people lock and load,” Shorett said.

Even Police Chief Robert Handy was not pleased with Penman’s comments. That’s understandable. The last thing that the police want with a reduced force is citizens clutching their loaded weapons with a finger on the trigger.

“I do not agree that we have a Police Department that cannot respond adequately. I take exception to the lack of confidence that’s portrayed of our Police Department and being drug into a political issue,” Handy said.

What Penman said is inappropriate for any elected official to say. Yet Penman is a lawyer. He handles liability and legal matters for the city. That he throws comments about loading guns into the public debate is careless and raises questions about the quality of legal advice that he gives the city. A flippant city attorney is not what a broke San Bernadino needs, especially one with the prominent advice that if you don’t have a gun then you can’t load it.

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