Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill banning ‘open carry’

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law AB 144, the bill to outlaw the “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places.

The bill was among the very last that he signed last night before the midnight deadline; I received the legislative update at 12:07 a.m. There was no signing message, and as far as I know, he never said a public word about this bill.

“The Governor has shown common sense and real courage by standing with law enforcement and victims of gun violence to make our communities safer,” said Dallas Stout, president of the California Brady Campaign Chapters. “By prohibiting the open carry of guns, we can now take our families to the park or out to eat without the worry of getting shot by some untrained, unscreened, self-appointed vigilante.”

Adnan Shahab of Fremont, president of Responsible Citizens of California, issued a statement expressing disappointment.

“The right to Open Carry has been legal in the State of California since its inception, and there has never been a single case of an Open Carry advocate ever committing a violent crime in the Golden State’s entire 160-year history,” Shahab wrote. “Since no problem has ever existed that needs to be addressed or fixed, there was no reason for AB 144 in the first place.”

Shahab said his group will work with other gun-rights groups “to plot the best possible course of action moving forward.” He also noted AB 144 bans open carry of handguns but not of long guns: “Since the State Legislature and the Governor have chosen to attack the right to carry handguns, law-abiding citizens who wish to be able to protect themselves from violent criminals have no choice but to Open Carry long guns instead.”

California is behind the times, he insisted. “Most other states have been expanding the basic, fundamental, and enumerated civil right to self defense for their electorate. It is time for our elected officials in California to stop eroding every law-abiding citizen’s Second Amendment Rights. Instead, our public servants should be working to firmly protect the basic, fundamental, and enumerated civil right to self defense and take deliberate action toward expanding these critical civil rights for all law-abiding Californians.”

AB 144, by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, makes it a crime to openly carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. Law enforcement personnel are exempt as are security guards, hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under specified licensed circumstances.

The Assembly passed the bill in May on a 46-29 vote, and after gun-rights activists spent the summer leaning on state Senators to oppose the bill, the Senate approved it on a 21-18 vote Sept. 8; the Assembly then concurred in the Senate’s amendments Sept. 9 with a 48-30 vote, sending it to Brown.

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually, or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they’re both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that’s sharply limited under current law.

Supporters of this bill, including the California Police Chiefs Association, Peace Officers Research Association of California and various gun-control groups, say open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers checking to ensure the guns aren’t loaded, in accordance with state law.

UPDATE @ 8:58 A.M.: “I want to thank Governor Brown for recognizing the importance of this public safety measure that will help reduce the threat to the public and to law enforcement,” Portantino said. “‘Open carry’ wastes law enforcement time and resources when they could be out catching criminals or solving crimes. Instead, when officers are called to investigate the display of a weapon on an ‘open carry’ proponent, it takes their attention away from where it’s needed and puts folks at unnecessary risk.”

“We worked closely with law enforcement on this bill – both the California Police Chiefs Association and Police Officers Research Association of California – because they felt strongly that “open carry” is not safe and that someone could get hurt or worse,” he added.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.