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Bill introduced to ban open carry of handguns in California

by Bob Morris, published

What's that you say?  You didn't even know open carry was legal in California? Why yes it is. The gun must be in clear view at all times and be unloaded. You may also legally carry ammo on a clip next to the holstered gun.  You don't need a license.

In a move either brave or foolhardy, State Assembly member Anthony Portantino has introduced a bill, AB 144, which would ban open carry in California. It's a given he will be hearing from lots of concerned folks about this, most especially from pro-gun organizations and lobbyists. I hope he's ready.

He says California law enforcement officers have told him they spend too much time investigating calls by people that someone is carrying a gun. This is a justifiable concern, but perhaps this occurs primarily because most Californians don't know open carry is legal.  In states like Arizona and Utah where open carry is more common and everyone knows what the law is, I've yet to hear police complaining about having to answer such calls. He also asks "Do you really need to be armed to buy a latte or a cheeseburger?" This seems, um, a loaded question to me. One answer is who knows? Another answer is that carrying a gun is a constitutionally protected right, or so some say.

Rather than venture into that minefield of controversy, let's look at the states where open carry is legal. There are about twelve states that permit open carry of a loaded handgun and several more allow open carry of an unloaded gun, all without a permit (Gun laws are always in flux and exact counts of states are difficult). Most, but not all, of these states are in the West, with others being in the mid-Atlantic and the South. Vermont is an outlier. It is in New England and has practically no gun laws. Concealed carry of a loaded gun is legal without a license.

I'm not able, and neither is anyone else to my knowledge, to draw any conclusions in comparing laxity or strictness of guns laws in relation to the level of crime and gun violence. Lots of people on both sides of the issue have tried hard to prove this one way or the other and no one has been able to find any definitive correlation.

In 1969, members of the Black Panther Party, in a brilliant piece of political theatre, carried rifles legally into the state capitol building in Sacramento ostensibly in support of gun rights. This freaked out conservatives then in much the same way that gun-carrying Tea Party members alarm liberals now.

Sometimes, when people argue, the real issue is about something else. Perhaps the gun debate is really more about how much power the states and federal government should be allowed to wield. Assembly member Portantino is well-meaning and genuinely concerned. However, just maybe, carrying handguns is no big deal, and should be treated as such by everyone, and then we can all calm down.

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