Proposed Open Carry ban has both sides up in arms

June 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photo from Bay Area Open Carry,

Back in March, I wrote about Bay Area Open Carry, a loose group of local supporters of the right to carry an unloaded, holstered gun in public. In the past few days, the BAOC Twitter feed has been buzzing in response to the state Assembly’s passage of AB 1934 this past Tuesday.

Now, it’s not often that I connect Disney stories with major themes in legal and political happenings, but the first line from “Peter Pan” comes to mind when I think about the significance that AB 1934 will have on the public’s relationship with guns:

“All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

AB 1934, the bill that would ban open carry in public, still needs to pass through the state Senate and the governor’s office before it’s enacted into law. However, it’s already been the trigger for a number of vocal and opposing viewpoints around the blogosphere—viewpoints that are rooted in a historical debate that boils down to the question: do guns in the hands of citizens promote or threaten personal and public safety? It’s a question that the United States has been dealing with since the formation of the country, and it’s one that we keep rehashing.

Most recently in 2005, San Francisco banned possessing, selling, distributing, and manufacturing firearms in the city, only to have that ban overturned three years later in 2008. The reversal neatly followed the previous year’s overturning of a similar, 31-year ban in the nation’s capital. And today, all eyes are on Chicago, the last major US city with a sweeping handgun ban. Currently, Supreme Court justices are debating whether the Windy City’s 28-year ban on handguns violates Second Amendment rights. That decision should be made by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, we Californians are having recurring conversations of our own about the practical and constitutional implications of an open carry ban.

In what might be déja vu for the city, a panel that included Emeryville Police Chief Kevin James, UC Berkeley Boalt Law School Professor Frank Zimring, and Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California convened in San Francisco last week to discuss AB 1934.

Siding with Paredes is Yih-Chau Chang, press secretary for the Responsible Citizens of California, the non-profit organization developed out of the statewide Open Carry movement. Chang authored an online petition against AB 1934; the petition already has close to 1500 signatures.

Chang, a self-described former gun-control advocate, is confident that a real ban on open carry will not come to pass in California. In fact, he believes that the Supreme Court will ultimately reverse the ban in Chicago, providing judicial reasoning to strike down AB 1934 should it come to fruition. Then, gun control and rights debates would no longer center around vague discussions of practicality and impact—it would all come down to interpretation of the law.

Chang explains in an email that the case in Chicago, McDonald v. Chicago,

“nearly perfectly mirrors the [District of Columbia] case and the likelihood of the US Supreme Court ruling against McDonald in this case is extremely slim. A ruling against McDonald would essentially render their 2008 Heller decision to be invalid.”

Meanwhile, across the table, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Campaign doesn’t think that strong gun control laws will be jeopardized should the court decide in favor of McDonald.

Whatever happens in Chicago, both supporters and opponents of AB 1934 feel like they’re making progress here in California. Both sides will meet again at the Commonwealth Club, which is hosting an Open Carry Debate with AB 1934 author Lori Saldana on June 17 at the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Hall.

To carry or not to carry

March 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Flickr photo by formatted_dad

It’s a gray Saturday morning at an outdoor mall in Walnut Creek. Elevator music quietly plays from speakers hovering above the manicured walkway. This is Locust Street: clean, safe, lined with upscale retail clothing stores and chain restaurants; a place where you’d be comfortable taking your family.

While a few people casually make their way to brunch dates or weekend sales at the many adjacent department stores, a noticeable crowd of men, women and children is building around the Buckhorn Grill. On the margins of the crowd stands Jerry Jeung: a kind-looking, middle-aged loss-prevention officer from Antioch. Jeung’s eight-year-old son Jarrett hangs off his left side, peering at the group pouring out of the Buckhorn Grill. And hanging off Jeung’s right side is a Glock Model 20 10 mm Auto Pistol.

Many people in the crowd of 75 are looking at Jeung’s weapon. Actually, they’re not so much looking at the firearm; they’re looking for it. Here, a gun is a sign of camaraderie, a symbol of mutual understanding and simpatico politics. As I approach the group, several eyes glance toward my hips. Gun-less, I feel somewhat underdressed and exposed.

It’s easy to understand why the members of this gathering are eager to visually pat me down and identify whether I stand with them or not. This is an unofficial demonstration of Bay Area Open Carry, a loosely affiliated group of locals exercising their second amendment rights to carry an unloaded firearm in public. They’ve been making national news lately with these demonstrations, forcing restaurants and cafes to pick sides on whether they’ll welcome or ban open-carriers in their storefronts. Peet’s and California Pizza Kitchen have taken a stand against the open-carriers, while Starbucks maintains that it’s open for business to both the armed and unarmed.

The political drama surrounding the situation seems a little bit overblown given my experience this morning. While these guys (literally—only men are carrying today) are technically packing heat, “gun-toting” is hyperbolic. This demonstration is about as action-packed as a book reading. Instead of reaching for their guns, these open carriers are reaching for pamphlets; instead of distributing lead, they’re delivering political viewpoints.

No guns are loaded or drawn today. The first and obvious reason is that, frankly, it’s the law. (A gun can’t be drawn unless a life is at stake.) Some open-carriers might also argue that no evil-minded criminal would dare to pull a weapon on a group so readily and rationally armed.

And yet, I can’t remove a third reason from my mind: we’re at a family-friendly restaurant in a suburban shopping mall.

And that seems to be the strange tension about the Open Carry movement: the demonstrations themselves don’t seem to necessarily demonstrate anything. One female supporter who isn’t carrying a gun tells me that the main argument behind the right to carry a firearm is safety: by having a gun on your person, you can defend yourself in a sticky situation. In addition, by having the gun visible, you reduce the potential for crime in your proximity. It would seem that demonstrating the value of carrying a firearm might be better achieved in a more active way: say, walking the streets of a crime-ridden neighborhood rather than lunching at Walnut Creek’s Buckhorn Grill.

Still, it makes sense that pulling a gun should always be a last resort, and that its usefulness hopefully won’t need to be proved.

About a week after the Bay Area Open Carry gathering, Buckhorn Grill management banned guns in their chain of restaurants. Still, the demonstrations—or moral-support gatherings—continue to make noise. Hopefully, that noise won’t include a bang.

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