LOS ANGELES. City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski describes the city's latest efforts to pass some kind of ban on ammunition sales as "a bold, progressive statement." Her choice of words is telling. "Progressive" is a word the left co-opted long ago for any policy it favored. Nowadays, it's a code word for politically correct politics.
The proposed ban on bullet sales is a case in point. It's feel-good legislation with the sole purpose of promoting the politicians who pass it.
The idea to ban bullet sales is the brainchild of local twins Niko and Theo Milonopoulos. In 1999, when the brothers were 12 years old, they got 7,000 fellow minors to sign a petition supporting a ban. They delivered the list to the council, and City Hall has been wrangling over the details ever since.
The ban won the support of Miscikowski's Public Safety Committee last week, and now awaits the approval of the full council.
For the Milonopoulos brothers, this must be an educational experience. They're getting a first-hand lesson in progressive politics -- where symbolism trumps results.
The council members supporting the anti-bullet legislation admit that it stands little chance of becoming law. The ban will probably win the council's approval, but it's unlikely to survive the court challenges that gun owners and dealers would inevitably mount against it.
So far, the legal system has been unkind to local governments that run afoul of state laws governing ammunition sales. In 1994, Pasadena passed an ordinance banning the sale of ammo between .22 and .45 caliber. It later repealed the ordinance when the state attorney general said it contradicted California law. A 1999 measure banning gun shows on L.A. County property has been tied up in the courts ever since.
And, of course, there's also that pesky Second Amendment, with its protection of the right to keep and bear arms.
Even the City Attorney's Office -- which has crusaded against gun ownership in its own way by filing a massive lawsuit against firearms manufacturers -- has told the council that a ban would be shot down in court.
The Public Safety Committee is prepared for that contingency. To cover its bases, it crafted a backup ban that covers only certain high-powered forms of ammunition. Councilman Mike Hernandez admits that the fallback legislation is almost entirely symbolic. "It's not the armor-piercing bullets that are killing children," he told the committee.
That much is true. Andy Williams, who will stand trial on charges that he killed two of his classmates and wounded 13 others last week in Santee, reportedly used a low-powered .22-caliber pistol. He also seems to have broken a slew of existing anti-gun laws, none of which was strong enough to contain the cultural ills that make outbursts like his increasingly common.
But the ban isn't about passing an effective or even a viable law, it's about making "bold, progressive statements." Or, as Hernandez puts it, "We need to send a message that enough is enough."
Even if the ban survived the legal gauntlet, criminals would still buy their bullets online, or through the mail, or in any neighboring city. They could also purchase ammo on the black market – after all, criminals don't much mind breaking laws. When the city banned ammunition sales during the 1992 riots, marauders stole their weapons and bullets instead.
As for the law-abiding citizens who wanted to protect their lives and property from the mobs that pressed forward as the cops stood by -- they were out of luck. "Bold and progressive" statements that find their expression in the law tend to bring about many such unintended consequences.
A local bullet ban won't deter any criminals, but it would inconvenience law-abiding Angelenos who want to use a gun for self-defense. It would also devastate local gun dealers, who would see their customers take off for neighboring cities.
The public would feel the pinch, too. Taxpayers would have to pay the bills for the city defending a law already pronounced indefensible.
The ban's backers on the council are excited by the possibility of a legal battle, especially if it allows them to enjoin the county's gun-show case. "It'll give us a reason to engage in the current debate," Councilman Nick Pacheco boasted last summer.
In other words, it will let City Council members send another meaningless taxpayer-funded message.
That's a strange definition of "progressive."