The open carry movement, an aggressive campaign asserting the right of all Americans to carry unconcealed firearms in public, operates under a simple premise spelled out in a banner headline on the opencarry.org website: "A right unexercised is a right lost." But in California, the opposite may well turn out to be true — in-your-face demonstrations by gun-toting activists have prompted a legislative backlash that may end open carry in this state for good.
That's OK by us. There is no compelling reason society should tolerate weekend commandos flashing their firearms, confounding law enforcement officers and terrorizing the public.
The Assembly on Tuesday approved a bill forbidding the open carry of unloaded firearms. (It's already illegal to openly carry loaded guns, and only people with permits issued by a law enforcement agency are allowed to carry concealed weapons.) The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana (D- San Diego) after about 60 armed open carry demonstrators frightened families and tourists on Pacific Beach last year.
Carrying an unloaded gun isn't as harmless as open carry advocates like to claim. It only takes a second to slap a clip into an unloaded semiautomatic, and an armed society is not a friendly society; angry disputes can turn deadly when the antagonists are packing heat, and untrained shooters can miss their targets and hit bystanders. Moreover, it is very difficult for police, or anybody else, to know whether a gun is loaded while it's holstered.
Even gun-loving rural states are wary of open carry. Last month, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry — who has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Assn., meaning he does pretty much whatever the gun lobby asks of him — vetoed a bill that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons permits to openly carry loaded guns. Granted, that's a little different from the California situation, but his reasoning rings true here too. "Proponents of open carry laws claim criminals will be discouraged from committing lawless acts if other citizens are publicly displaying their weapons on the street," Henry said in a statement after his veto. "Law enforcement officials disagree, however, saying such a scenario makes it more difficult for officers to determine the difference between criminals and law-abiding citizens at a crime scene or domestic disturbance."
The state Senate should approve Saldana's bill, AB 1934, and the governor should sign it. Gun enthusiasts can find a more socially acceptable way to assert their manhood. We recommend growing a mustache, or getting a biceps tattoo that does the hula when flexed.