Visitors check out a rifle display at a National Rifle Assn. convention… (Whitney Curtis / Getty Images )
The national obsession with guns, and the lunacy of American gun laws that set different rules for gun resellers than new-gun dealers or that allow people to possess military assault rifles intended to kill cops rather than hunt deer or protect one's home, are frequent fodder for Times editorials. But things are different in California; not only does this state have some of the toughest gun restrictions in the nation, its largely urban and liberal Legislature sometimes treads unacceptably on 2nd Amendment rights -- in a way that offends even some gun-control advocates.
A case in point: Assemblyman Anthony Portantino's bill, AB 1527, to prevent the open carry of rifles in public.
The Times' editorial board is no fans of open carry, but that phrase is usually meant to describe the open carrying of handguns. We have editorialized that open carry should be outlawed, and were appalled when gun advocates starting gathering on beaches and in Starbucks outlets to assert their right to pack heat in public. Apparently, so was the California Legislature; last year it approved a bill that banned the open carrying of handguns. But that wasn't enough for Portantino, a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge. His bill would apply the same ban to long guns.
This doesn't make a lot of sense. Fortunately, Portantino's bill isn't likely to impose a big burden on hunters or target shooters if it passes because it contains well over a dozen exemptions for such innocent rifle-bearers. It exempts people carrying rifles on private property that they own themselves or where they have the owner's permission to carry; it allows people to carry their rifles in public if they're in cases or locked containers; it excuses gun dealers and hunters and others who would have legitimate reasons to be armed, and so on. Yet this is a bill without a purpose.
The open-carry movement is alive and well nationally but has largely gone underground in the Golden State since the passage of California's law -- advocates apparently figured out that their guiding philosophy was badly flawed. Open-carry protesters have operated under the theory that a right unexercised is a right soon taken away, but they discovered that the opposite can easily be the case: Exercise a right that other people find obnoxious and you may soon lose it.
As far as I'm aware, there is no epidemic of riflemen twirling their Winchesters in California's public squares. And the idea that they ever would is pretty silly. Open-carry advocates seem to genuinely believe that they're safer if they're allowed to mosey from saloon to supermarket while sporting shooting irons Gary Cooper-style, but even the most strident gun nut would have a tough time slinging his .30-.30 through Ralphs -- or using it to defend himself if his fantasy scenario ever came true and he was actually attacked by a mugger.
Pointless legislation is, unfortunately, endemic to Sacramento. Portantino is taking aim at a problem that doesn't exist, and that's a shameful waste of time given the number of genuine problems that need solving.
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