A California lawmaker has stepped into a growing gun rights debate by introducing legislation that would essentially outlaw what's called the "open carry" of unloaded weapons on public property.
The measure, which was first introduced last month but is not expected to have its first hearing until April, is meant to address the growing “open carry” movement, in which some gun owners have taken to meeting in coffee shops, parks, and restaurants while wearing holstered weapons to raise awareness about gun rights.
“People should be free from the fear and the potential for violence firearms represent,” said Democratic Assembly Member Lori Saldaña of San Diego, in a statement. “These displays of firearms can create potentially dangerous situations.”
Assembly Member Saldaña said she was compelled to introduce the bill to limit the open carry law in California, which is one of at least 38 states that allows the display of unconcealed weapons, following a gathering of some 60 armed open carry advocates at a southern California beach.
“People were understandably concerned,” she said. “The police were called and the situation became frightening for the families simply enjoying a day at the beach.”
In recent months, members of the grass-roots open carry movement have been turning up at many Bay Area cafes. In addition to bringing attention to gun laws, which allow unconcealed and unloaded weapons to be carried without a permit, the groups are also making a statement about the difficulty of obtaining concealed weapons permits.
Following gatherings at Peet’s Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen, both chains opted to ban guns from their premises. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has called on Starbucks to follow suit.
But the coffee chain, which has been thrust uncomfortably in the middle of this gun debate, said that it would abide by local laws and that the issues surrounding open carry should be decided in legislatures and courts.
While the bill proposes placing limits on openly displaying weapons in public, it does not propose limits within businesses.
Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg, an expert on gun laws, says it's unlikely that the California legislature would endorse Saldaña’s bill. “The great majority from both political parties don’t want to cross the gun lobby,” he says.
While the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most influential gun rights group, appears to have distanced itself from the open carry movement, it probably would back efforts to defeat any move to limit California's open carry law, says Professor Weisberg.
“The safest course for the NRA would be to say it's unconstitutional and provide some legal assistance” to stop the measure, Weisberg says. He says the NRA is uncomfortable with the permissiveness of the open carry movement and may worry it could endanger laws that protect carrying concealed weapons.
In some ways, Weisberg says, provoking a Democratic California lawmaker to go after open carry laws is a boon for the movement. “They wanted a generic California liberal to attack them," he says, "and they have succeeded in that regard.”