In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the open carrying of handguns in public.
For several months before that, "open carry" proponents had been especially visible in the South Bay, making their 2nd Amendment point by packing heat in public on the beach and at a fair, among other places.
The sight made some people nervous, including the police; the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge, said police "felt strongly that 'open carry' is not safe and that someone could get hurt or worse."
California became the fifth state to ban open carry. Arizona, right next door, is an open-carry state, except where other laws restrict carrying weapons near schools or in parks.
The open-carry issue in California has an odd history. In 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited anyone from carrying a loaded gun in public. Yep, Ronald Reagan.
The back story of this is stunningly dramatic. The Black Panthers had become poster people for the 2nd Amendment. California law at the time allowed them -– and anyone else -- to carry long guns as long as they were in plain sight and not being aimed at anyone.
The Mulford Act, sponsored by a conservative Berkeley legislator named Don Mulford, was the Legislature’s response. And the Panthers’ response to the Legislature was this -- a group of armed Panthers, in berets and leather jackets and carrying their weapons, staged the PR coup of marching up the Capitol steps and into the Assembly. As I like to say, I imagine there wasn't a dry seat in the house.
Concealed weapons are another matter.
California counties issue concealed weapons permits. Some sheriffs, like Los Angeles' Lee Baca, approve very few, which ticks off gun advocates; onetime Orange County sheriff Michael Carona rewarded his supporters with concealed weapons permits. After Carona was indicted on federal corruption charges and resigned -– he was convicted of felony witness tampering -- some of those concealed weapons permits were revoked by the new sheriff.
Now the secretary of state's office has announced that there's a petition ready to circulate in search of half a million signatures to rearm Californians with concealed weapons.
If it gets on the ballot and passes, it could create a gunslinger's paradise, throwing out virtually all current requirements for getting a concealed weapons permit and letting almost anyone who's not under criminal investigation or indictment or restraining order carry a hidden gun.
Here's what the initiative would do, according to the secretary of state's website:
- Eliminate good cause and good moral character requirements for license to carry concealed firearms.
- Compel sheriffs and police chiefs to issue licenses to carry concealed firearms to any eligible applicant with no history of mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence, who is not currently under criminal investigation or indictment or currently subject of restraining order.
- Eliminate sheriffs' and police chiefs' option to require applicants to complete up to 24 hours of firearms training, and prohibit them from imposing reasonable restrictions or conditions when issuing the firearms license.
Not even "reasonable restrictions or conditions." Not even a 10-minute course on gun safety. Ready, fire, aim.
Odds are this won't get on the ballot, but the collateral effect of social-issue ballot initiatives in big election years shouldn't go unnoticed. An anti-gay marriage measure on Ohio's 2004 ballot spiked conservative voter turnout and contributed to John Kerry losing the state to George W. Bush.
And in 1982, Los Angeles' Democratic mayor, Tom Bradley, unexpectedly lost a squeaker of a governor's race to Republican Atty. Gen. George Deukmejian. Some analysts now think that -- whatever may have been a closet race vote against a black man trying to become governor, now known as the "Bradley Effect" -- the conservative turnout against a handgun control initiative generated the losing margin for Bradley.
Proposition 15 –- which Bradley, the former cop, endorsed -– would have required some handgun registration and limited handgun purchases. It lost -– and so did Bradley.
Gun control that won't
Guns and states' rights
Gun safety, Texas-style
Open carry: Would-be Yosemite Sams are shot down
Cartoon: Why state legislators needn't carry concealed weapons
-- Patt Morrison
Photo: Tammy Cude of San Pedro wears a banana in her gun holster as she passes a Redondo Beach police officer while participating in an "open carry" event at Redondo Beach Pier in August 2010. Credit: Christina House / For The Times