A new ban signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown prohibiting the open carry of handguns in public could lead to an unintended proliferation of rifles and other long guns in public if gun enthusiasts continue to fight for their Second Amendment rights.
Brown signed AB144 by state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena Monday morning. The bill will make it a misdemeanor to carry an exposed and unloaded handgun in public or in vehicles. Violators could face up to a year in prison or a potential fine of $1,000 when the law takes effect Jan 1.
Gun owners have been protesting the legislation since it was introduced in January, a few days after a shooting in Tucson, Ariz., killed six people and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords. In April, gun owners began carrying unloaded handguns in public places and restaurants as a political statement in Pasadena.
The ban may push gun activists into openly carrying rifles in protest of the handgun ban, National Rifle Association civil rights attorney C.D. Michel said.
"You're not going to stop people from having these demonstrations," he said.
The bill exempts hunting and shooting events and doesn't apply to those are given permits to carry a concealed weapon by law enforcement authorities.
Sheriff's departments in most major cities in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, make it difficult for citizens to get concealed carry permits, said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. The association, which has 33,000 members in California, is a pro-gun lobbying association based north of the state capital.
"This is a ridiculous law," he said. "This is an immense infringement on the right to bear arms."
The bill is an opportunity to prevent tragedy before it happens, Portantino said.
"It's not if somebody is going 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.
Top California law enforcement groups, including the California Police Chiefs Association and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, supported the legislation.
Brown, a Democrat, told The Associated Press that "he listened to the police chiefs and they were concerned" about the open carry laws.
"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," Dallas Stout, president of the California chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement.
The Brady Campaign, which sponsored the legislation, said California joins Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas as the only states to ban the open carry of handguns. It said 33 states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana and Colorado, do no prohibit open carry. Twelve states, including South Carolina, Tennessee, Minnesota and Massachusetts require permits for open carry.
Alaska, Arizona and Vermont are the only states that don't require concealed carry permits.
The group viewed the open carry of unloaded handguns as a safety threat to communities and their officers. He said the bill will help assure that felons and gang members cannot openly carry an unloaded gun with impunity, said David Maggard Jr., president of the California Police Chiefs Association.
The organization represents the state's 336 municipal police chiefs.
Gun advocates and most Republican lawmakers have criticized the law, saying it targets law-abiding citizens. State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said Brown sent the message that he has no respect for the Constitution.
"There are risks to living in a free state, and for the governor to take away and chisel away at the Second Amendment right when he claimed to respect it, it just kind of shows his true colors," Donnelly said.
"It's really a form of tyranny," he said of the ban.