An East Bay police chief will be in Sacramento on Wednesday to advocate for a bill that would crack down on the “open carry” movement, in which gun enthusiasts say they’re exercise their Second Amendment rights and protecting their personal safety by carrying unloaded firearms in plain sight in public places.
Emeryville Police Chief Ken James said he’ll be representing the California Police Chiefs Association, which has thrown its support behind AB 1934, the bill being unveiled this week by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego. Saldaña amended the bill last week so that it would, subject to exceptions, make it a misdemeanor to openly carry an unloaded handgun in specified public areas. Open-carry advocates say it’s a further abridgment of their Constitituonal rights.
Open carry has been an issue here in the East Bay and across California for several months now; some businesses have adopted policies barring customers from bringing firearms inside.
James said his concerns about the open-carry movement are twofold. “One is officer safety – this puts an officer between a rock and hard spot. Do we treat the gun as ‘Oh, it’s just an open carry’ or do we treat it as were trained to do from day one at the academy that it’s possibly a danger?”
The other is an issue of public safety, he said. “If the assumption is being made that the guns aren’t loaded … and if I see you walking down the street with that nice handgun … and I have my loaded gun and I decide to take your unloaded gun from you, I have the advantage. It’s an open target for people to be robbed of their unloaded handguns.”
“All the polls I’ve seen, the average citizen is uneasy seeing a gun. We have always in Emeryville (Police Department) had a policy that when you are not in uniform, you do not expose your weapon, simply because people don’t feel comfortable seeing them,” he said, noting plainclothes officers and detectives must ensure they’re wearing something over their sidearms even on the hottest days.
He said the California Police Chiefs Association did a statewide survey to gauge its members’ concern about the open-carry movement, and what the best approach would be to address that concern. One possibility was a statewide ban. Another was local choice and control by city or county ordinance, but James said “that creates a lot of issues for the poor citizen who needs to know 58 counties and more than 500 municipalities that all might have something different.”
A third option was changing state law to give officers more authority to check on weapons and the people who carry them. James said all an officer can do right now is demand to see whether the gun is unloaded; the officer can’t ask for ID to see if the person is legally allowed to have the weapon (convicted felons and mentally ill people are forbidden from carrying, for example) and can’t run the gun’s serial number to see if it has been stolen from its rightful owner.
“By far, the survey of membership was ‘ban it completely.’ It just makes it simpler,” James said.
Open-carry advocates clearly disagree. As Walter Stanley of Livermore told my colleagues a few months ago, when everyone carries a gun, misreading situations is less likely: “We want not just police and criminals to be carrying guns, but law-abiding citizens as well. … An armed society is a polite society.”