LANCASTER — With recently released statistics indicating the Antelope Valley’s homeless population has increased 3% and with several incidents of homeless individuals committing violent attacks in Southern California, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris has spoken about one measure residents could consider, if they haven’t already done so — arming themselves.
In a May 31 sit-down interview with ABC7 reporter and Antelope Valley resident Leo Stallworth, Parris said he advocated that residents consider carrying concealed guns in a hypothetical scenario where the segment of the homeless population responsible for aggressive and violent behavior are deemed to pose a serious threat.
“I don’t see it coming to that, but I’m certainly open to the possibility,” Parris said. “I’m also a lawyer and I tell people — you don’t want a gun permit. Once you have a gun permit, it’s easy to pull it out.”
Parris told the Antelope Valley Press he floated the idea of residents arming themselves as a hypothetical solution in response to Stallworth citing an incident in Ventura County in April 2018 in which a homeless man stabbed a 35-year-old father while he was dining at a restaurant. “We do know that 60% of the homeless have criminal backgrounds; they’re criminals and thugs,” Parris said.
The mayor is a lawyer and gun owner. He admits gun ownership “puts you in a different frame of mind” and in regard to his advice that residents should consider purchasing guns, he said, “I’m hoping this is just an academic exercise.”
At the same time, Parris is very clear about what should happen if a homeless person attempts to rob or hurt someone: “When they rob somebody, somebody ought to shoot him.”
California is a “may-issue” state, which means local law enforcement has discretion about issuing carrying concealed weapons (“CCW”) licenses. A “good cause” must exist for the issuance of a license and the applicant must be deemed to have good moral character and pass a background check, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence,
Parris told the Valley Press that the feedback on his comments has been “overwhelmingly positive, and the only negatives I got was from people who are always negative.”
City Councilman Marvin Crist said Parris expounded on his remarks at the last Council meeting. “He doesn’t believe the homeless are a class of people of their own” who should be treated differently if they’re committing a crime, Crist said. “In that light, I would have to agree with him 100%.”
After watching the ABC7 interview, Lancaster Councilman Raj Mahli said he also sided with Parris. “I own a small business and the other day, I asked someone to move, and next morning I come in and my window is broken,” Mahli said. “I do agree with Mayor Parris. He said it hypothetically. Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
The broadcast interview was posted on a Facebook group called Get Parris Out of Lancaster, which has nearly 3,900 followers and generated some discussion.
The Valley Press reached out to several local activists who work with the homeless population, but they declined to speak on record about Parris’ comments. Mel Tillekeratne, a grassroots organizer in the Greater Los Angeles area who recently began advising a group of AV activists, said Parris’ comments “really misrepresent what’s happening and to have people second guess every homeless they come across is irresponsible.”
“How do we sit down with the mayor is the question,” Tillekeratne said. “We are always open to sit down and talk, because at the end of the day, for anything to happen, the government and the citizens have to work together.”
Parris said the city is “investigating opening a different treatment program” and alluded to “innovative things happening” to address the homelessness crisis locally, which continues to be a controversial and politically explosive topic across the southland and the state.
“I think the leadership in the state and the country are ignoring a lot of the problems,” Parris said. “It’s all well and good to wear you heart on your sleeve, but at the same time our obligation is to protect people living here.”