State lawmakers look to ban open carry

January 14, 2011 7:10:07 PM PST
It's still legal in California to strap on an unloaded weapon and carry it almost anywhere you go, but there's a new effort underway to change that. A number of police chiefs in the Bay Area are lining-up to support a measure that would prohibit what's known as "open carry."

In Walnut Creek this latest battle over gun rights is heating up. There was a vigil held Friday evening for the victims of the deadly shooting in Arizona, an event that has sparked renewed debate about gun control around the country.

In California, attempts to revive a proposed law that would ban unloaded guns in public actually began before last weekend's shooting.

With the New Year comes renewed effort among state lawmakers to ban open carry in California. It comes in the form of AB144, a bill introduced in the assembly by Assm. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, an effort endorsed by the California Police Chiefs Association.

"Guns are a threat. We don't know who they are and they have the potential to be a danger, a deadly danger, to anybody," says Emeryville Police Chief Ken James.

In California, it's legal to display a weapon in public, as long as it's unloaded. Open carriers typically carry a clip, or ammunition magazine on one hip and a gun, on the other. A bill to ban the practice made it through the legislature last year, only to die at the end of the session due to last-minute delays that prevented it from getting to the governor's desk. Supporters of a ban say they're motivated by the open carriers themselves, who've held a series of public gatherings in restaurants and coffee houses in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

"I believe this bill will get quote 'shot down,'" says Jeff Dunhill from Open Carry in Contra Costa County. "I think it's absolutely ludicrous that an elected official would consider restricting the rights of their citizens."

Open carriers worry some politicians may overreact to last weekend's mass shooting in Arizona.

"I think it's definitely overreaction. What happened with Arizona was it was a violent criminal who committed these acts, he was not a law-abiding citizen," says Yih-Chau Chang from Responsible Citizens for California.

"This is the bill that we supported last year," said Karen Arntzen from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

That group is launching its own online campaign aimed at getting restaurants to deny entrance to open carriers.

"The California Brady Campaign Chapters are not waiting for legislation to pass, we've launched our own Demand Gun-Free Dining California Project," says Arntzen.

The Brady Campaign is appealing directly to restaurants to ban Open Carry events and they're asking the public to do the same through a packet that's available on their website. The Open Carry folks say they will continue to hold those events as a way to exercise and demonstrate their legal right, as it stands now in California.