â€” Could tactics used by the â€śopen carryâ€ť movement backfire?
Assemblywoman Lori SaldaĂ±a, D-San Diego
, and allies of legislation she introduced Wednesday to ban the public display of unloaded weapons believe so.
State law permitting Californians to display their empty-chamber firearms has been on the books since about 1968, drawing little attention.
But a surge in demonstrations of people exercising that right in the San Diego region and nationally has attracted scrutiny.
â€śIt wasnâ€™t a problem we had to deal with. As itâ€™s become more prevalent over the last two years, weâ€™ve had to deal with it,â€ť said Emeryville Police Chief Ken James
, whose statewide law enforcement organization supports the measure. â€śIf we hadnâ€™t had a lot of these open-carry events, police chiefs probably wouldnâ€™t be involved in it,â€ť he added.
SaldaĂ±a cited an open-carry event in Pacific Beach last year as alerting her to the need for a ban on displaying guns, even unloaded, in public. There, with thousands of people at the beach on a Saturday, about 60 members of the movement walked along the boardwalk.
Open-carry advocates say they are acting out of frustration over what they see as governmentâ€™s infringement on their Second Amendment rights. They also are protesting limits on concealed-weapon permits.
â€śThe Second Amendment provides the right to bear arms, not just in the home,â€ť said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. â€śTheyâ€™re using the First Amendment to make a statement about the Second Amendment.â€ť
Among the most celebrated instances nationally have been at various Starbucks Coffee locations and in Phoenix
, where about a dozen activists legally brandished weapons near an event attended by President Barack Obama
â€śGuns are an intimidating presence,â€ť SaldaĂ±a said. â€śThe average citizen canâ€™t tell the good guys from the bad guys.â€ť
Lawmakers have attempted to change the law several times, but not since 2005, according to SaldaĂ±a.
â€śWeâ€™re seeing more instances of open carry. Circumstances have changed,â€ť she said.
SaldaĂ±aâ€™s measure, Assembly Bill 1934, would not change existing law that allows citizens to carry concealed weapons with permits. Businesses on private property would still be free to implement their own open-carry policies.
Gerald Reaster, a retired Navy officer and organizer of an Escondido open-carry group, called the public displays â€śa form of grass-roots political protest.â€ť
Members go to public places to assert their rights and educate people, he said.
There have been events in shopping malls, at restaurants and at Escondidoâ€™s popular Cruisinâ€™ Grand hot-rod event on Friday nights. Members meet beforehand for a safety briefing and to ensure the guns are unloaded, Reaster said.
â€śWe are not doing this to intimidate people,â€ť he said.
But there have been reports of business patrons fleeing stores and complaining that the demonstrations frighten them and their children.
Victor Torres, a member of the North County minority rights organization El Grupo, is alarmed because he associates the open-carry movement with the Minutemen, which has crusaded against illegal immigration.
â€śI donâ€™t see what the purpose is other than trying to intimidate people,â€ť Torres said, endorsing the legislation.
SaldaĂ±a promotes the bill as a public safety measure, noting that when police are called to reports of guns they do not know whether itâ€™s a protest or an actual public threat.
Said Emeryville Chief James, â€śWe view open carry as an officer safety issue. Officers are taught from Day One at the academy that guns are a threat. â€¦ We teach tactically how to respond to that threat.â€ť
With SaldaĂ±aâ€™s bill in place, â€śthey will not have to worry about whether their safety is going to be in peril by somebody openly carrying a firearm,â€ť James said.
Paredes dismissed the support of the California Police Chiefs Association, saying members must answer to big-city councils that are usually pro-gun control.
Supporters of the bill concede that they know of no incidences of violence related to open-carry events.
Even though California law bars citizens from displaying loaded guns, ammunition can be on one hip while an unloaded pistol is holstered on the other leg, SaldaĂ±a said. She displayed a video showing a person slipping a magazine into a gun within two seconds.
The bill will get its first test Monday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Its fate appears murky. Gun control, even in California, has always been a tough sell in the Legislature. Its chances are further complicated by upcoming elections and the influence of the conservative tea party movement.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
has not taken a position.