10:13 PM PST on Sunday, January 3, 2010

By JOHN F. HILL
The Press-Enterprise

An effort by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to make it easier for residents to carry concealed firearms isn’t likely to change policy, the Sheriff’s Department said.

In a 3-1 vote in November, supervisors passed a resolution asking the sheriff to consider applications for permits based solely on “personal defense.”

Supervisor Jeff Stone, author of the resolution, pegged the issue to the potential release of thousands of California inmates as part of a plan to meet a federal mandate to reduce the state’s prison population.

“I want to make sure that our citizens have the opportunity to protect ourselves with the release of 27,000 very dangerous people,” Stone said.

Supervisor Bob Buster was the lone vote against the resolution. He said he believed that existing regulations were adequate.

Applicants must show they need a concealed carry permit. That could mean they have a job that requires travel to dangerous areas, or an order of protection against a stalker or assailant.

Stone’s resolution would allow Riverside residents to get a permit for “personal protection.”

A Moreno Valley man who spoke in favor of the resolution during the meeting said he never considered getting a gun until he was savagely beaten last year.

Keith Cunningham, 46, hadn’t fired a gun since leaving the Marines in 1989. Despite a job operating several elderly care facilities that required him to collect rent payments in cash, he never felt like he needed to be armed, he said in an interview.

That was, until five young men beat him last April, knocking him unconscious for no apparent reason, he said. He was hospitalized and still uses crutches.

“I really don’t think someone should have to suffer a beat-down like that before” they can arm themselves, Cunningham said.

Cunningham now has a permit, and his wife, who helps run the business, also plans to get one.

He said he’s still not entirely comfortable walking in public with a loaded firearm. He’s nervous someone will notice it and react the wrong way or that he’ll mishandle it.

But he said he believes law-abiding citizens should be able to arm themselves without having to prove they are in immediate danger.

Cunningham probably would have been able to get a permit before the attack, considering his job. But someone else shouldn’t have to prove they’re carrying lots of money or valuables before preparing to defend themselves, he said.

“The logic of that escapes me, because I don’t know anyone that carries anything that’s worth more than their life,” Cunningham said.

The Sheriff’s Department has said it will not change the way it issues permits.

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