California lawmakers advanced legislation on April 20 that would make it illegal for citizens to carry a firearm in public, even if it is unloaded. Currently it is legal in California to openly carry an unloaded gun in public, as well as ammunition.
AB 1934, is authored by Assemblymember Lori Saldana (D-San Diego). It cleared the Assembly Public Safety Committee with four Democratic legislators voting for the ban and two Republicans voting against it.
Rep. Saldana said in a press release that unloaded guns in public pose a threat because they can easily be loaded and used for violence.
“I have seen a gun go from unloaded to loaded in less than two seconds,” Saldana said. “That significantly increases the risk to the public.”
Saldana wore a bulletproof vest while testifying before the committee to emphasize her point.
Law enforcement agencies such as the California Police Chiefs Association, the Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s Office and the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association have supported AB 1934.
“I back this legislation,” said Emeryville Police Chief Ken James. “I believe open carry places officers in dangerous situations. We train officers to treat all guns as a threat.”
UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said she shares this view.
“I am one that is never in favor of any weapons,” Spicuzza said. “I want to believe that nobody has a gun; I don’t want to be surprised by that.”
Gun rights advocates have taken action against the progress of AB 1934 and have held rallies at the capitol.
“We think it’s an infringement on constitutional rights,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of the Gun Owners of California. “You cannot prohibit concealed carry and open carry – if you cut off both means you’re violating the Second Amendment.”
Paredes also asserted that the right to open carry does not threaten public safety.
“It has been happening in California for decades,” Paredes said. “It’s not at all a safety issue.”
Nevertheless, businesses such as Buckhorn Grill, California Pizza Kitchen and Peet’s Coffee & Tea have prohibited customers from openly carrying handguns in their establishments since the open carry issue has become more prevalent and armed gun owners have begun to gather in public places like Starbucks.
“Guns are very dangerous,” Spicuzza said. “It’s hard to identify the good guy and the bad guy.”
The Second Amendment allows citizens the “right to bear arms,” therefore if AB 1934 is passed this could become a legal issue. The Gun Owners of California plan to challenge the legislation in court if it is passed, but law enforcement officials would likely continue to support AB 1934, Paredes said.
“I don’t believe it violates the Second Amendment,” James said. “The Supreme Court has held that all rights granted by the constitution are not without limits. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater even though you have the right to free speech.”
The bill is currently in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations and will likely be heard in late May.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.