Ben Boychuk and Pia Lopez

Head to Head: Should California adopt a ban on openly carrying rifles and shotguns?

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 11A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 - 6:36 pm

THE ISSUE: Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, is sponsoring legislation to bar Californians from carrying unloaded long guns and shotguns in public. AB 1527 is a sequel to Portantino's AB 144, which outlawed "open carry" of unloaded pistols at the beginning of the year.

Should state adopt a ban on openly carrying rifles and shotguns?

Ben Boychuk: No, it is fear mongering

The law is a teacher. So, what would Anthony Portantino's new open carry ban teach?

Very simply, a ban would teach that it's better for Californians to be ignorant and fearful of firearms than educated and aware, and that one's fellow citizens cannot be trusted to exercise their rights lawfully or responsibly.

Even simpler still: The sight of a gun is a terrible fright. Let us pass a law banishing those evil objects from our sight, then all will be well.

What makes Portantino's bill especially obnoxious is his rationale for it. When the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed his silly bill last year banning people with holstered handguns from patronizing coffee shops and burger joints, some of those same people were rightly out of sorts.

"Unfortunately," Portantino condescended, "the open-carry folks reacted by carrying rifles and shotguns, alarming the public and creating a dangerous situation."

That's certainly one way of looking at it. Here's another: Californians responded to an unwise law by exercising their rights too flagrantly for Portantino's liking.

In reality, Portantino fueled public alarm last year when he exploited a media sensation and introduced Assembly Bill 144, contemptuously describing the right to carry an unloaded handgun as a "loophole" in the law.

"You don't need a handgun to order a cheeseburger," he said.

"You don't need a handgun to get a cup of coffee." He intimated that people who did so were one bad service away from loading their guns and opening fire.

Portantino further exaggerated public alarm this week, once again exploiting a sensation when he told the Los Angeles Times his "common sense" bill is necessary because of incidents like the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo. The former has nothing whatsoever to do with the latter. But Portantino speaks as if the lawful exercise of a right somehow offers a pretext for mass murder.

As far as I can tell, "common sense" gun regulation means any regulation gun-control enthusiasts can conjure. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month reiterated his support for common sense – and in practically the next breath mused that police should go on strike for more stringent gun laws. Such is what passes for "common sense" nowadays.

Portantino's bill includes some palliative language aimed at hunters and sportsmen, which has led some commentators to conclude the bill lacks teeth or isn't as harsh as it could be.

I disagree. Assembly Bill 1527 is an exercise in fear mongering, superstition and demagoguery. It would add one more rotten lesson to a penal code full of them.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal (www.city-journal.org/california)

Pia Lopez: Yes, but not AB 1527

Ben seems to prefer a society where people are so fearful of their safety – some might say paranoid – that they routinely carry lethal-force weapons.

If you are sitting with your 4-year-old child in a coffee shop (church, grocery store, bank, park, public street, bar, courthouse or library) – and a guy you don't know walks around openly carrying a pistol or shotgun, that's no problem, says Ben. We should just see that as normal.

That's Wild West fantasy – or, worse, as Thomas Hobbes might put it, a society degenerating into a "war of all against all" – not a civil society.

How do you tell if the guy with the pistol or shotgun is a "law abiding" gun owner?

I'm with the view of the National Rifle Association when it was still rational on gun regulation. Then-NRA President Karl T. Frederick, testifying before Congress in 1934, said: "I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses."

In California, open carry of loaded firearms in public has been illegal since 1967. When Black Panthers routinely carried guns in the streets of Oakland and other cities, saying they needed to protect themselves, Assemblyman Don Mulford, R-Piedmont, introduced Assembly Bill 1591.

In a memorable protest, shotgun-toting Panthers marched up the state Capitol steps and onto the Assembly floor. The Mulford Act passed.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed it, saying there's "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons."

The current issue arises because some Second Amendment fanatics started showing up at town hall meetings with handguns and assault-style rifles, ostensibly unloaded – and then at cafes.

Just as Panthers toting guns as a symbolic statement provoked backlash, so has today's symbolic nonsense.

Unfortunately, the two bills by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, are so full of exceptions that they fail the test of good law. AB 144 on handguns has 27 exceptions. AB 1527 on long guns has 33 exceptions.

Laws should be clear so people know where they stand. The more exceptions, the more complicated the law and the more arbitrary enforcement becomes. So I'm opposed to AB 1527 and AB 144.

I support laws, as the NRA did in the 1930s, requiring anyone wanting to carry a concealed handgun (no open carry) to get a permit, if they have a legitimate reason for carrying.

Long guns being transported in public places to the field for hunting or for target shooting should be encased, unloaded, with ammunition separate.

As California Attorney General Thomas Lynch said in supporting the Mulford Act of 1967, "There is no place in this day and age for 'Wild West' exhibitions of firearms."

Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.

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