State bill would make open carry of handguns a misdemeanor


A California bill would restrict the ability of gun owners to display their arms in public. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ewwhite

By Kristine Magnuson, SF Public Press
A bill to prohibit people from openly carrying unloaded handguns in California, AB 144, heads for a vote in the state Senate soon, following its passage in May by the state Assembly and approval by the Senate Public Safety Committee. The bill, co-authored by assemblymen Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada, Flintridge) and Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) is again going before the Senate for a vote.
The bill would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a steep fine, to openly carry an unloaded handgun “on one’s person or in a vehicle.”
The California Police Chiefs Association, the Police Officers Research Association of California and other advocates for AB 144 contend that a loophole in the current concealed gun law creates a nuisance for the public and for police.
To protest restrictions on carrying a concealed firearm, a number of gun proponents identifying with the national “open carry” movement publicly carry or display unloaded handguns on their belts and sometimes display ammunition.
“Existing law prohibits carrying a concealed weapon, loaded or unloaded, unless granted a permit to do so,” according to the California Police Chiefs Association. But existing law doesn’t prohibit carrying an unconcealed weapon — the source of the conflict.
Portantino said police regularly receive calls from alarmed residents who see guns carried in plain sight in public venues. Responding to these complaints slows down reaction to other calls or threats.
Portantino introduced the bill to close the so-called loophole by making it a crime to carry an unloaded weapon without a permit, except under limited circumstances. It would also be a misdemeanor for someone to knowingly allow a passenger in his or her car to carry an unloaded handgun without a permit.
AB 144 is similar to a failed 2010 bill by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana (D-San Diego).
Not everyone agrees that this is a matter of public safety. Some argue that it is a demonstration of personal rights protected by the Constitution. According to Yih-Chau Chang of Responsible Citizens of California, “Not all cops in California are against every common, law-abiding citizen’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
Responsible Citizens of California and Open Carry California both provide Web forums for gun-rights proponents to debate restrictive gun laws.
Some restaurant chains are weighing in with gun bans on their premises; others have announced that they won’t ban guns at theirs.
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Assembly member Anthony Portantino gives his rationale for the bill and the danger to police and families

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