California gun enthusiasts will be keeping their pistols not just in their holsters, but completely out of view, as Assembly Bill 144 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday.
The bill, which was introduced by Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) with support from law enforcement statewide, bans the open carry of unloaded handguns in California, effective Jan. 1.
“Open carry” is the term used to describe the carrying a gun openly in public, as opposed to “concealed carry.” Since becoming a state in 1850, California has permitted legal open carry of unloaded weapons. Unloaded long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, still may be carried openly under the new law.
Portantino said that the decision to introduce AB144 came from a desire to address the concerns of law enforcement officials who told him that the current law was creating a dangerous situation.
“Law enforcement came to the Legislature and said, ‘we feel our men and women in uniform are unnecessarily put at risk,’” Portantino said.
Portantino said that the problem with unloaded open carry was that there’s no immediate, easy way to see whether a holstered handgun is loaded.
“When a call goes out that there’s a person in a parking lot or on a street with a weapon … law enforcement has to roll as if that gun’s loaded,” said Portantino. “That takes their attention away from other duties and it creates an unnecessarily tense situation.”
“Law enforcement thinks it’s a matter of time before one of these stops escalates to where somebody gets hurt,” Portantino added.
Nicole Nishida, spokeswoman at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. headquarters, echoed Portantino’s concerns.
“For all law enforcement officers and community members, any type of weapon being carried open or concealed could appear as a threat to their well being and is regarded as a public-safety threat … not only for law enforcement, but for the general public, because they don’t know it’s unloaded,” Nishida said.
That’s not how gun rights advocates see it, however, said Yih-Chau Chang, of South Bay Open Carry. About 30 South Bay Open Carry members led a protest against AB144 in Old Town Pasadena on April 21.
“California’s been [a state] for about 160 years, open carry’s been legal the entire time, there hasn’t been a single violent incident in that entire history,” said Chang.
Chang said the real issue was the government infringing on gun owners’ rights to protect themselves.
“Fundamentally, we believe in the civil right to self defense,” said Chang. “Violent crime is a reality that is increasing in many parts of California, and open carry is just a way for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.”
For Portantino, however, it is important to value the right of the public to not be put in tense or dangerous situations because of openly carried firearms.
“It’s an infringement on the family who’s out on main street trying to enjoy themselves, to be put in this situation where there’s a proliferation of weapons,” said Portantino. “They have a right to exercise their rights of freedom and liberty.”
It remains to be seen if openly carried weapons will disappear. Chang said that open carry advocates would start carrying long guns, and that they would keep pushing for more gun rights.
“This year we’ve actually met a really great synergy with all the other 2nd Amendment groups in California,” said Chang. “We’re all united now in making sure these unconstitutional gun control laws are going to get repealed one by one.”