Could a bill banning the open carrying of firearms
actually result in more guns on California streets?
That’s what some gun rights advocates are saying about AB
1934 by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D-San Diego. They claim that the difficulty in getting
concealed weapons permits in many California counties
is so great that a ban on openly carrying guns would
essentially infringe on the right to bear arms. One
pro-open carry group, Responsible Citizens of California,
has indicated that they are prepared to file a lawsuit
as soon as the bill becomes law, if it gets that far.
“There is no question that for the vast majority of
cities in California, getting a CCW [concealed carry weapon permit] is impossible,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners
of California. “When you look at the number of CCWs handed out in Los
Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego Counties, counties
which represent the majority of the state, they hand
out very few.”
California is a so-called “may issue” state. What this means is that county sheriffs can
choose to issue permits or not, and that those who
are denied permits have no recourse. Forty states are
“shall issue” states, with laws stating that permits, if needed
at all, shall be issued to anyone who has the proper
legal standing to own a gun. Two states, Wisconsin
and Illinois, ban concealed weapons entirely.
Illinois is currently ground zero of the nation’s debate over gun control laws, said John Lott, a blogger
and author of the book “More Guns, Less Crime.” On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the case McDonald vs. Chicago, overturning
that city’s 28-year-old ban on owning guns within the city limits. This
expanded their 2008 decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller, which
overturned a similar ban in D.C.
According to figures gathered by Lott, San Francisco
County issued a total of six CCWs for all of 2009. Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego each
issued fewer than 1,500 — the equivalent to less than one per 2,000 people. In some rural counties, by contrast, permits
in a single year total over two percent of the population.
Yih-Chau Chang, press secretary for Responsible Citizens,
said his group is also looking for an author for a
bill that would move California into the “shall issue” column. He said such a move — permits including registration and training — would fix many of the public safety problems Saldana
raises in AB 1934.
A spokesperson for Saldana said that they had researched
the decision and believe their open carry ban remains
legal despite the McDonald case. They declined to comment
further. AB 1934 passed the Assembly on June 1 and currently awaits a hearing in the Senate Appropriations
“I think that argument misconstrues the courts holding
in the McDonald vs. Chicago and District of Columbia
vs. Heller,” said Ben Van Houten, staff attorney with the group
Legal Community Against Violence, which supports Saldana’s bill.
In both cases, he said, the court ruled against the
most stringent possible law - an outright ban on gun ownership within the home.
He noted that despite the efforts of many gun rights
advocates, the Heller case has not resulted in the
wholesale overturning of gun restrictions around the
country, including a host of new, more narrowly-tailored gun laws in D.C.
“We’ve already seen a wave of litigation after Heller and
there is no reason not to think there won’t be more after McDonald,” Van Houten said. “What we’ve found in tracking those cases is that the courts
have not impacted a wide variety of state and federal
Van Houten also noted that neither case took up the
issue of bearing arms outside of the home. He also
pointed to a portion of the McDonald decision which
noted: “the right to keep and bear arms is not ‘a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in
any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.’
We made it clear in Heller that our holding did not
cast doubt on such longstanding regulatory measures
as ‘prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons
and the mentally ill,’ ‘laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive
places such as schools and government buildings, or
laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the
commercial sale of arms.’”
Lott agreed, but noted that the issue of “bearing” arms did come up in the trial - with Justice Antonin Scalia saying at one point that
the right to “bear” implied a right to “carry,” something some have interpreted as an invitation to
challenge bans on carrying weapons.
“There’s nothing settled until you get
back to the Supreme Court,” Lott said. “If they want to go and bet on that, that’s fine. I’d be happy to take the other side of that bet.”