L.A. homeless man arrested with two machine guns

Sheriff's deputies arrested Richard Cunningham over the weekend, charging him with possession of five guns and ammunition, raising a debate about several incidents involving homeless people and weapons.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A homeless man walks past a sign painted on a building in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. Declaring a homelessness crisis, the City Council on Tuesday paved the way to allow people to sleep on sidewalks and temporarily live in their cars while it continues to seek ways of housing an estimated 26,000 transients.

A homeless man who had five firearms, including two working World War II-era machine guns, was arrested over the weekend and arraigned on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department said Wednesday.

Deputies on foot patrol at a homeless encampment near the Harbor City neighborhood discovered 57-year-old Richard Cunningham with the machine guns and three pistols, Sheriff’s Detective Dennis Elmore told the Associated Press.

Mr. Cunningham, who the authorities said had been previously convicted of a felony, also had high-capacity magazines for the machine guns inside a tent at the homeless encampment He faces a series of charges for possessing the guns and the ammunition, though details of his previous conviction were not disclosed.

The case comes in the wake of several incidents where police have recovered guns or been involved in shooting incidents with homeless people.

In one case, a homeless man  allegedly living illegally in the US found a gun that reportedly belonged to a federal agent on a San Francisco pier, and then shot a young woman walking on the pier with her father, killing her.

The case proved controversial because the man, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, was a Mexican immigrant who had reportedly been deported from the US five times, including for felony drug charges, raising a debate about San Francisco’s so-called sanctuary law, which limits cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement, The Christian Science Monitor reported in July.

The case briefly gained attention from several presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, who is known for his tough stances on immigration, including characterizing Mexican immigrants as being “rapists” and bringing crime to the US.

But in another case, a homeless man was praised after finding a duffel bag full of weapons stolen from a Massachusetts Army reserve center in a Bronx park and returning them to police in New York.

In Los Angeles, there has also been debate about policing of areas with large homeless populations after a shooting of one man by police in March. In that case, police  shot and killed a homeless man who grabbed for an officer’s gun in March. It was initially unclear how the situation had unfolded, but videos from the shooting, at an encampment in L.A.’s skid row, appeared to show the man reaching toward the officer’s waistband, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Police Chief Charlie Beck described the situation as a “brief, brutal fight,” where officers initially attempted to use a Taser to subdue the man, but after he continued to resist and grabbed for an officer’s gun, three officers opened fire on the man, killing him.

The confrontation had reportedly begun after the man had flipped another homeless man’s tent onto the curb with the occupant still inside, leading witnesses to call the police to report a robbery.

The man, who went by the nickname “Africa” often helped staff at the nearby Union Rescue Mission clean up, but had once lashed out violently at a passerby, Andy Bales, the mission’s president told the Los Angeles Times.

“The people on the street are in an untenable position and that puts the officers in an untenable position when it comes to policing,” Mr. Bales said.

Such cases have spurred a debate over whether people who have lost their homes also have legal protections that govern carrying weapons under the Second Amendment.

It appeared that there was no legal right barring homeless people from carrying weapons, although – as with the case of Richard Cunningham in LA — previous convictions may prevent one from owning or carrying a weapon. It was unclear if Cunningham had a lawyer, the AP reported.

“I don't believe just because someone comes on hard times and loses their home, that they should lose their right to protect themselves,” wrote one user on a forum dedicated to concealed carry laws.

“I've never (so far) heard of any law that says a homeless person has no [Second Amendment] right or right to protect their self,” the person added.

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