Shirley Starr has lived with fear for more than two years, ever since she looked into the eyes of a man she believes had just killed someone. In the summer of 1993, Starr, an active grandmother- type, worked as a bookkeeper for an El Cajon attorney. Their office was one of four businesses, including a barber shop, in a one-story building with a common parking lot in the rear. “On Wednesdays,” Starr recounts, “I’m normally in a hell of a hurry to get to my car to go to bingo. It was a little after five. When I exited the back door this particular day, there was a very unusual fellow in the alley. When he saw me, he ran back to a car two doors over from me and pretended to be trying to get into the passenger side with a key. It was where he could directly stare me down. It was just a fearsome, scary type of stare,
Thank God, the two girls from the baby shop came out to empty their trash, because I think he would have killed me.”
Starr says the man, white and in his early 30s, glared at her for nearly a minute. “It scared the daylights out of me, because I’d never had anyone quite do that. It was like, ‘I’m gonna get you.’ ”
That night Starr heard on the television news that the woman who owned the barber shop had been murdered that day, her throat slit. Starr called El Cajon police. A uniformed officer was waiting at her office in the morning to interview her. After making her statement about the man in the parking lot, she asked the officer if she could be in danger. When he said yes, she asked him to sign a note she’d prepared that stated she had witnessed a possible murder suspect. Starr thought the document would help when she applied for a permit to carry a concealed handgun, something she was now determined to do.
The officer told her to call his captain. According to Starr, when she met with the captain, he was clearly unhappy about the letter and refused to sign it.
“Two days later, in walked these cops who said, ‘Oh, well, we don’t think you girls have anything to worry about. No danger whatsoever. It was somebody she knew.’ So I looked at them and said, ‘Do you have him in custody?’ They said no. So I said, Hey, this guy’s free. He knows where I work, he knows the type of car I drive. If he has access to DMV records, he can find out where I live. So don’t bother me with your bullshit, that you're here for my protection. I have to protect myself, and I am carrying my gun.’ ” The officers told her she could go to jail if she carried a concealed weapon without a special permit.
Starr, following the advice of the officer who initially interviewed her, had begun to carry her snub-nose .38, unloaded, in one hand, and a strip-load (for fast loading) in the other. (It is legal to carry an unloaded gun.) And Starr was not unfamiliar with firearms. In her home state of Michigan, she had taken a gun-safety course before going hunting, and since then she’s been on firing ranges many times.
“Three days after the murder, the gals from the baby shop asked me if I had gotten off early the day before. I had, and they told me the guy was there again, leaning against my door, and ran away when they stared at him.
“I started calling every agency for a permit to carry a [concealed] gun.” She now thought of it as her lifesaver.
After asking a judge she knew for some help, Starr received a call from an El Cajon police lieutenant. According to Starr, he was nearly yelling into the phone. “ ‘You called the judge? You even called Duncan Hunter’s office?’ I told him I’d called every agency in town, and how did he know? He said, ‘I’m a homicide detective, I know everything.’ So I told him what he didn’t know, that the suspect had returned to the crime scene.” The lieutenant, she says, refused to believe her.
A friend told Starr that police detectives were asking around to see if she were paranoid enough to shoot someone. Her boss was also being pressured by the detectives he saw daily in the courthouse, she says. He asked her to stop packing the gun, because she’d probably shoot one of his clients. “I was the subject of their gossip about carrying the gun,” Starr says, still enraged by the recollection, “not about the solving of the murder.” She says she called the lieutenant and threatened to sue if the malicious talk continued.
Starr then took her problem to the National Rifle Association. They referred her to a local member who offers close-combat training courses and also to the sheriff’s permit department in Kearny Mesa to make formal application for a concealed-carry permit.
Staff in the permit office evidently felt that Starr merited special attention; they sent her to the sheriffs office’s legal counsel, Richard Pinckard. He gave her his business card, on the back of which he had hand-written “California Penal Code Sec. 12025.5.”
According to Starr, Pinckard told her,“ ‘I just want you to know that this penal code protects you, and that under the laws of man and nature you’re entitled to carry a concealed weapon.’ The penal code,” asserts Starr, “says that when you are in imminent danger, you have the right to protect yourself, over and above all other laws of the land, and that includes carrying a firearm.” She never did receive a concealed-carry permit but feels that Pinckard’s business card is sufficient.
As for who determines whether one’s life is in danger, Starr asserts that is “determined by you. I was told by this attorney for the sheriff that if you happened to get stopped by a cop, traffic violation, anything, you just put your hands on the steering wheel, and you tell him, ‘I am carrying a pistol.’ [Pinckard] said they may take it away from you, but if they do, you’ll get it back. You show him this card; you show him the penal code.”