LA County Sheriff Plays Political Games During Crisis, Again Orders Gun Stores Closed

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has doubled in Los Angeles in the last three days but the county’s elected Sheriff, who also serves as the Director of Emergency Operations (for now), seems to be more concerned with scoring media points against the Board of Supervisors, with whom he’s been in a battle nearly since he took office.

Thursday’s offensive? Again ordering the county’s gun stores closed, deeming them “nonessential.”

On Monday night, Villanueva announced in a TV interview that he considered gun stores nonessential and said they should close. On Tuesday he went a little further, saying he would send deputies to each store, one by one, ensuring that they followed his order. Tuesday afternoon, after County Counsel “gave him a legal opinion that gun stores can be considered an essential business under the Governor’s order,” Villanueva suspended his efforts.

Then, according to a post on his department’s Facebook page, Villanueva claims that a vague answer Gov. Newsom gave in a press conference Wednesday evening to the question of whether gun stores were considered essential gave him the authority to make that determination and close gun stores. His tweet claimed (emphasis added):

In compliance with @CAgovernor‘s Executive Order, Gun & ammunition stores are not considered essential businesses, and will cease to sell to the general public, there are some exceptions. Please see my full statement below: #COVID19 #SaferAtHome #flattenthecurve #LASD #SheriffV

What are the exceptions? As with all California gun laws, they don’t apply to law enforcement officers or, in this case, “security guard companies,” in Villanueva’s words. This puts the ordinary citizens of LA County at a disadvantage, as Cam Edwards, editor at our sister site Bearing Arms, points out.

Cam tweeted:

By allowing security guard companies to continue to purchase firearms and ammunition,@LACoSheriff has told his constituents that if you can afford to outsource your personal protection, you’re good to go. If the safety of your family is a DIY affair, however, you’re out of luck.

Sadly, Sheriff Villanueva’s actions regarding gun stores (they must be shut down because of CDC studies!) are just the latest example that his decisions are ruled by emotion (especially pride) and not by facts, the law, or concern for the people of Los Angeles County.

As we reported Tuesday, Villanueva went to the press Monday night because he felt snubbed by elected officials who held press conferences without him (even though his counterpart with the LAPD wasn’t present either) and told the public that because the Board of Supervisors were so incompetent he sent them a letter telling them that he was taking over all aspects of emergency response.

Because every good leader airs grievances during a pandemic, right?

Wednesday afternoon Villanueva was informed that an urgency motion had been calendared for the upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting that would transfer responsibility for “the County’s activities related to emergency preparedness, response, and recovery” to the County’s Chief Executive Officer. He immediately characterized that as “retaliation” and again ran to the press, although that change (and others) had been voted on in November 2019 after a post-Woolsey Fire review of the county’s emergency response systems.

He took the time to single out Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger, telling the L.A. Times that he’d been working to bring everyone together and that:

“This is pretty much a silent coup, what they’re trying to orchestrate. We should be worried about masks, about test kits, and I have [Supervisor] Kathryn Barger worried about guns and ammunition.”

Barger has not commented on Villanueva’s actions regarding gun stores.

As further demonstration of Villanueva’s lack of maturity and leadership, he promised that “he will pull all his resources out of the emergency operations center if he’s removed” – even though obviously the Sheriff’s Department would still be a vital part of the county’s emergency response team, and a united response is needed during this pandemic. As Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement to the press:

“The change on Tuesday’s agenda will not in any way diminish the Sheriff’s Department’s authority over emergency law enforcement activities. it simply updates county codes to reflect best practices and implements one of the recommendations made in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire.”

But do go on, Sheriff, about how you’re the only one trying to bring all of the parts of the county together.

Is the pattern becoming clear? It starts when Villanueva either feels like he’s not getting enough attention (positive or negative, doesn’t matter to him) or feels his authority and masculinity are threatened by a female-majority Board of Supervisors. He then takes an action to assert his authority then advertises that to the press. If the Board takes an action he perceives as retaliation (such as County Counsel’s legal opinion or the pending motion), he runs to the press and simultaneously lashes out and humbly claims he’s just trying to do the right thing but people are out to get him.

It’s a destructive pattern, and it’s clear that the welfare of the people of Los Angeles County isn’t near the top of Villanueva’s priority list.

Apparently Villanueva didn’t get enough attention from his press hits or the announcement of his renewed effort to shut down gun stores, because he hosted a rambling Facebook live about two hours later.

https://www.facebook.com/LosAngelesCountySheriffsDepartment/videos/557802424837923/

The majority of the Sheriff’s comments were focused on attempting to prove that the Supervisors were lying and claiming that no one else county government was able to handle the situation:

“Some people just don’t want to be told what the limits of their authority are or what their role is. And as an elected sheriff, I have a role as a director of emergency operations,” Villanueva said, adding that he is a part of the Unified Coordination Group but has the role of executing what the group decision is. “What’s decided at the group level, that is how the process works. That is what teamwork is all about. So I want to encourage my counterparts on the Board of Supervisors to join the game and let’s do this the right way.

“Unfortunately, the Department of Public Health (and) the Department of Health Services was not prepared for a pandemic at the onset of this.”

The board, Villanueva said, would “be the one dictating the outcome of every single incident, which they definitely don’t understand how to handle them properly.”

Congratulations, Sheriff Villanueva. Not since former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel’s performance in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting have we seen a law enforcement officer more concerned with political posturing, spin, and maintaining his power at all costs in the midst of a crisis.