The California Assembly approved a bill Monday to prohibit openly carrying unloaded handguns in public after a debate that pitted gun rights proponents against chiefs of police.
The bill, AB144, would make it a misdemeanor to carry an exposed and unloaded gun in a public place, street or vehicle except in some unincorporated areas. It was approved 45-29 largely along party lines and moves to the Senate.
Several states ban openly carrying handguns and at least one applies the ban to unloaded weapons.
The National Rifle Association was one of several groups that opposed the California bill and reportedly plans to sue if it becomes law
The bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Canada Flintridge, said it will improve public safety. It is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Families shouldn't have to fear for their safety if they're out for a walk and see someone packing a pistol, Portantino said, and police shouldn't have to answer calls to respond to those fears.
He said a loophole in current law allows people to carry unloaded weapons in public even if they're carrying ammunition on the same belt.
"You don't need a handgun to order a cheeseburger," he said.
Gun rights activists say the bill infringes on their right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some have been carrying unloaded weapons in public as a political statement, including at a protest in Pasadena last month against the legislation.
"You are disarming our citizens" while doing little to disarm criminals, said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.
"It is not just the right to keep, it is the right to bear arms," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.
Backers insisted the bill wasn't aimed at hunters or others who responsibly exercise their rights, and insisted it would make police and the public safer by reducing armed confrontations.
"This is a public safety issue," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles.
The bill was introduced just days after a shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The attack sparked a new round of debate over gun violence.
The measure passed Monday by the Assembly was similar to a bill defeated in the California Legislature last year.