Eclectic Rant: Senate Must Pass AB 144 to Restrict California's Open Carry Gun Law

By Ralph E. Stone
Monday August 29, 2011 - 04:58:00 PM

The California Assembly passed Assembly Bill 144, which would severely restrict California’s open-carry gun law with certain reasonable exceptions, for example, hunters or to transport guns in locked trunks or cases. California law now allows adults who are not prohibited by law to visibly carry an unloaded gun in public places, excluding school zones, government buildings, state and national parks and secured areas like airports. The law permits a gun owner to carry ammunition with the unloaded gun, which could be loaded within seconds, belying the distinction between a loaded and unloaded gun. Police are permitted only to ensure the weapon is not loaded. They cannot check the gun’s serial number, ask for the carrier’s identification, or detain him or her. It is also still legal to carry a concealed weapon, although gun most advocates claim such permits are and should be difficult to obtain.  

AB144 is a logical extension of the Mulford Act, which already prohibits the carrying of a loaded weapon on one’s person or in a vehicle in a public place or on any public street. AB144 now faces an uncertain future in the Senate. 

Last year, Bay Area gun advocates staged frequent open-carry “meet-ups” at Starbucks coffee shops and other restaurants. People showed up at pre-determined places wearing their unloaded sidearms and hung out, drinking coffee or talking. Many members of the public, alarmed at the sight of people openly carrying a handgun, called the police. When the police arrived, they were only allowed to verify that the handguns were unloaded and, if they were, there were no charges.  

The Starbucks coffee chain announced that it will continue letting customers openly carry unloaded handguns in its coffee shops. I bet Starbucks would quickly change its policy if a group of black folks from the “hood” or “Arab-looking” folks in traditional Middle Eastern garb exercised their rights by carrying handguns with ammunition in their belts entered a Starbucks coffee shop and ordered coffee. 

Not surprisingly, many in the public find the practice of “packing heat” in places like Starbucks intimidating and potentially dangerous to their families and communities. 

Why this American obsession with guns? The United States is a violent nation with the highest rate of firearm-related deaths among all industrialized nations. Over 70-million Americans own guns and 48 percent of all households have at least one gun. There are an estimated 200-million firearms of all types in the United States. In homes with guns, a member of the household is almost three times as likely to be the victim of a homicide compared to gun-free homes. On the average, if someone gets shot and killed, four out of five times it will be with a handgun. A 2010 Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 47 percent oppose so-called “open carry” laws that would allow citizens to openly wear their guns in public and 41 percent favor such laws. In states where it is legal to openly carry a gun, a 2010 CBS News/New York Times Poll found that 74 percent believe that private businesses like stores and restaurants should be able to prohibit customers from openly carrying guns in their establishments. 

I carried a 45 caliber standard issue handgun while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. I have never owned gun or intend to ever own a handgun and I do not feel any safer knowing that 70-million other Americans own them. 

Gun control advocates argue that they are just exercising their Constitutional rights and an unexercised right to openly carry a gun is a lost right. After all, “it is people, not guns, that kill people.” (Actually, it is people with guns that kill the most people.)  

Regrettably, in the 2008 case of District of Columbia vs. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court did find that Americans have a Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.” However, this does not mean that federal and state governments cannot pass and enforce gun control laws. In fact, many gun control laws have been found to be valid after the Supreme Court decision. 

AB144 will be a tough sell in the Senate. The California Police Chiefs Association and the Brady Campaign and many law enforcement agencies are vigorously supporting the ban, while the National Rifle Association and other gun groups are against it. Lobbying by both sides will be hot and heavy. If AB144 should become law, it will most likely be challenged in court.  

Please urge your state Senators to pass AB144.