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'Open-carry' gun ban challenged by supporters

April 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The controversy over gun control is heating up in Sacramento. State legislators are considering a bill that would prohibit people from openly carrying unloaded handguns in public.

"Open Carry" legislation was the topic at the Capitol Tuesday. Representatives from both sides showed up to publicly defend their position. A bill is reigniting the debate over gun control in California.

The Los Angeles City Council recently threw its support behind a statewide open-carry ban. That proposal has cleared its first hurdle.

The controversy began when open-carry advocates started gathering in public places like coffee shops and restaurants around California with their unloaded weapons exposed.

While perfectly legal, the protest against gun control laws made some passers-by uncomfortable.

"I think that you're asking for trouble if you're walking around with an exposed weapon on your hip," said Yvonne Douglas, a pedestrian.

The California Assembly Public Safety Committee took the first step in banning the practice of open-carry in California for most people, making it a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"It's just too close for comfort for average Californians. You don't need a weapon to buy a cheeseburger," said state Assm. Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge). "Proliferation of sidearms should be in a Western movie, not Main Street California."

Often the open-carry protests prompt concerned citizens to call police, who say the gatherings drain their already-stretched departments.

"A gun in a public setting has to be viewed by a police officer as a threat. And as such, it take our resources away to deal with that threat," said Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, representing the California Police Chiefs Association.

But open-carry supporters say the ban is unconstitutional, pointing out the Second Amendment gives them the right to bear arms to protect themselves.

"It is critical during states of emergency that people have the ability to defend themselves when police are not available," said Alany Herman Toller, Gun Owners of California.

Nicole Stallard says she needs a gun to protect herself because attack rates on transgender people are high.

"[Calling] 911 gets you police in minutes. In the meantime, you're dead or beaten," said Nicole Stallard, Northern California Pink Pistols.

The proposal heads to the Appropriations Committee next. A similar bill last year cleared several committee but failed to get to then-Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk by the deadline.