Black Panthers. California State Capitol. 1967.
As of Jan. 1, 2012, open carry of an unloaded handgun will be illegal in California. What’s that you say? You didn’t even know it was legal? California AB 144 passed in October and was signed by Governor Brown. He did so saying he listens to California police chiefs who oppose open carry because they say it makes their job harder and alarms the public.
Well, about 40 states do allow some version of open carry and their law enforcement doesn’t seem overly stressed by it. Further, if open carry alarms the public, then perhaps the public is unaware of the laws. I do considerable travel in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Open carry is legal and relatively common in those states. The public and police are quite aware of the laws. It’s just not a big deal. Plus – and this infuriates proponents on both sides of the issue – there have been no conclusive studies that show that gun ownership and open carry either increases or decreases violent crime. Yes, there have been a multitude of studies, but many of them contradict each other.
What is a big deal to gun owners is the Second Amendment. They say it gives them to right to own and carry weapons without undue inference from the government. (I don’t think anyone seriously argues that private citizens should be allowed to own Stinger missiles. There are limits.) CalWatchdog quotes California lawmakers in rural areas who say open carry is increasingly essential, due to the meth labs and marijuana plantations. If you were out hiking and suddenly came across irrigation lines where there shouldn’t be any, maybe you’d want a weapon too.
Others say it makes no sense to walk into a deli, see someone carrying a gun, and wonder if they are law enforcement or a criminal. While the apprehension is understandable, again, this is probably because people don’t know what the law is. I have seen open carry in a Las Vegas deli. No one cared or was scared. And do the bad guys open carry or even care about the law? OpenCarry.org, who obviously has a dog in this race, quotes a San Bernardino Sheriff Sgt. who says “Gang members aren’t known to open carry.” Nor are drug cartel members.
A civil rights lawsuit has already been filed opposing the new law. Amusingly, the law has a gaping loophole which, while it bans open carry of handguns, does not ban open carry of unloaded rifles and shotguns. “Come Jan. 1, you will see us out there with unloaded rifles and shotguns,” says a gun rights advocate. While gun rights may seem a right-wing issue to some, the banning of open carry of loaded weapons in California was in response to the Black Panthers openly carrying loaded weapons in 1967.
California is an outlier when it comes to gun laws. Most states are becoming more permissive. Gun laws by state are highly confusing and ever-changing. Keeping up with all of them is practically a full-time job. One thing is for certain though. The battle over gun rights in California isn’t over. Expect a concerted effort to overturn the new gun law.