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Upcoming Bill Could Prohibit Gun Owners from Carrying in Public

May 3, 2010

Starbucks Logo courtesy of Kucmel007

Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz called on Starbucks and other businesses on Friday to voluntarily make their property off-limits to those who openly carry a firearm.  Koretz was joined at City Hall by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D-San Diego, who unveiled Assembly Bill 1934, which would make it illegal for anyone other than law enforcement to openly carry an unloaded and exposed handgun in a public place.

You’re reading a story completed during the course of one day as part of the USC journalism graduate school’s final comprehensive exam.

“Think of how terrified you might be, how intimidated or traumatized, to suddenly see an unknown stranger packing a handgun, and to know that there’s no sensible recourse,” Koretz said.  “Think of the effect on a child, or on a person who has already been victimized by gun violence.”

Loren Lieb, a member of Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence can understand this sentiment.  In August 1999, her 6-year-old son Joshua was shot twice by a gunman who entered the North Valley Jewish Community Center.  After the incident, Joshua had post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I [don’t] think the people who are advocating normalizing gun carrying … have experienced it first-hand and really don’t know the trauma that it can cause,” Lieb said, explaining that her son would not feel safer knowing that another patron in the same business was openly carrying a gun.

Those fighting against AB 1934 stress that it is a right and not just a privilege to openly carry a firearm and congregate with others who feel the same way.  Many such meetings take place at Starbucks which, unlike Peet’s Coffee & Tea, allows gun-carrying patrons to enter its businesses.

“Were we to adopt a policy different from local laws allowing open-carry,” reads a Starbucks statement on its Web site from March 2010, “we would be forced to require our partners to ask law abiding customers to leave our stores, putting our partners in an unfair and potentially unsafe position.”  Starbucks declined to comment for this story.

“Sometimes freedom is uncomfortable,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, about open-carry advocates’ having the freedom to hold demonstrations, “but that’s our first amendment rights.”

Paredes says he holds no animosity toward restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen that do not allow those openly carrying a gun to enter the property.  If Saldana’s bill passes, Paredes and other open-carry advocates would no longer be allowed to express their Second Amendment rights in any public place in California.

Saldana says the bill aims to combat the intimidation some feel at the site of someone carrying a gun and reduce safety risks.  At an event in Saldana’s district last year, many members of the open-carry movement walked along a beach boardwalk, making some feel apprehensive.

“This bill is about reducing risk to the public in a time when we are cutting back on public safety resources as our budget at the state and local level continues to decline,” Saldana said.  “Responsible, accountable gun ownership is what we are aiming for here.”

Paredes and other open-carry advocates see this as something that contributes to safety and their peace of mind while Saldana and Koretz see the presence of guns on non-law enforcement citizens as a threat to safety.

“People have an unrealistic fear of them,” Paredes said.

Open-carry advocate Walter Stanley has carried his gun in public for the last five months and believes there are greater causes to which local officials should devote their efforts.

“What they should be doing is giving us the right to carry loaded open-carry weapons, because really, I’m just at a disadvantage,” Stanley says, explaining that potential criminals would probably hesitate to rob someone openly carrying a loaded gun.

The California Police Chiefs Association supports Saldana’s bill, on the grounds of safety.

“Second amendment rights, like all other rights, [should be] exercised responsibly,” said John Lovell, government relations manager for the California Police Chiefs Association.  “Just as I do not have a free speech right to shout ‘Fire’ in a crowded movie theater, I don’t think I have a Second Amendment right to engage in conduct that jeopardizes the safety and security of people around me.”

California last attempted to make illegal the open carrying of a gun in 2005, when AB 98 would have prohibited people from carrying an unloaded and exposed handgun.  The California Assembly Committee on Public Safety will decide the fate of the bill on April 20.

UPDATE: The bill advanced in the state Assembly on April 20.  Read more in a Mercury News article here.

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