SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California became the fifth state to prohibit openly carrying handguns in public after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday that he had signed the ban into law amid heavy opposition from gun enthusiasts.
AB144 by state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, makes it a misdemeanor to carry an exposed and unloaded gun in public or in vehicles, with violators facing up to a year in prison or a potential fine of $1,000 when the law takes effect on Jan 1.
The bill exempts hunting and shooting events and does not apply to those who are given permits to carry concealed weapons by law enforcement authorities.
Portantino said the bill is an opportunity to prevent tragedy before it happens.
“It’s not if somebody is going to be shot; it’s when somebody is going to be shot,” he said. “We have the opportunity to avoid that, and that’s why this is so critical.”
He said law enforcement officials have been concerned about the proliferation of guns in public and the tense situations that arise when someone sees another person carrying a firearm in public. He said the encounters can escalate quickly because others don’t know whether the gun is loaded or unloaded.
One of the first rules of firearms safety is to always assume a weapon is loaded.
“Main Street California is not the Old West, and you don’t need a gun to buy a cheeseburger,” Portantino said.
Gun owners protested the legislation in April when they began carrying unloaded handguns in public places and restaurants as a political statement in Pasadena.
The Brady Campaign, which sponsored the legislation, said California joins Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas as the only states to ban the open carrying of handguns. It said 33 states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana and Colorado, do not prohibit open carry. Twelve states, including South Carolina, Tennessee, Minnesota and Massachusetts, require permits for open carry.
Gun advocates and most Republican lawmakers have criticized the law, saying it targets law-abiding citizens.