California Assembly rejects open carry' practice for gun owners
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers are taking aim at a protest movement that encourages participants to show up at public places en masse with handguns strapped to their side.
The "Open Carry" movement sparked shock waves last year when about a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, stood outside an Arizona convention center where President Barack Obama was speaking.
The California Assembly narrowly passed legislation Tuesday to prohibit the practice, which typically is meant to protest gun-control laws or the scarcity of concealed-weapons permits. It is legal if the guns are not loaded.
"We think it's an accident waiting to happen," Amanda Wilcox, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said of gun-toting protesters mixing with frightened citizens in public places.
Wilcox said that allowing firearms in public — recently such a demonstration occurred in downtown Sacramento — sends the wrong message to children.
"Kids are normally trained not to touch a gun, and it sends a very confusing message when they see a firearm in the holster of someone next to them in a Starbucks," said Wilcox, whose 19-year-old daughter was shot to death in a rampage in Nevada County, Calif., almost a decade ago.
But Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said the legislation passed Tuesday, Assembly Bill 1934, is an attempt to stifle the constitutional right to bear arms.
"You just urinated on the Second Amendment, as far as I'm concerned," Paredes said outside Assembly chambers after the vote.
Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore said the bill violates free-speech rights, too, by targeting protesters.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on the bill.
AB 1934 would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail, to carry an exposed handgun in a public place or on a public street in a city or in prohibited areas of unincorporated county territory.
The bill contains numerous exceptions, including display of a firearm by a peace officer, a firearms dealer, a target-shooter at a range, a gun-show participant, and by a licensed hunter while engaged in that sport.
Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, a Democrat who crafted AB 1934, said it is meant to assist police officers who must respond to reports of a gun-toting crowd without knowing whether the firearms are loaded or the participants violent.
California law currently allows officers to examine whether the weapons are loaded but not to demand identification or gun-registration documents from the owners, she said.
Saldana said the open display of guns could make the protesters a target for street toughs or criminals who covet their weapons.
In an era of diminishing public safety resources, it makes no sense to assign police to "babysit" people who decide to tote guns simply to draw attention to themselves, she said.
The bill is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, among others, Saldana said.
Republicans and gun-owner groups oppose AB 1934, which passed by the bare minimum number of votes required, 41-25. It now goes to the state Senate.
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Republican Assemblyman Danny Gilmore said the bill would do nothing to make communities safer or to reduce gun violence.
"We need to be concerned about getting firearms out of the hands of criminals," he said.
Supporters countered that citizens do not currently have an unrestricted right to bear arms — handguns are not allowed in airports or government buildings, for example.
Saldana acknowledged the bill could run into trouble in the Senate. If so, she would consider amendments that would allow unloaded guns to be carried but give police broader authority to demand identification from owners.
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