Hours after Gov. Jerry Brown announced he had signed a bill to prohibit Californians from openly carrying unloaded handguns early this week, law enforcement officials and Bay Area activists on both sides of the issue were divided about the newly passed legislation.
Assembly Bill 144 bans the open carrying of handguns in public places or in vehicles, and makes the act a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison or a maximum $1,000 fine.
Law enforcement officials throughout the state praised the governor's move, saying the new law would promote public safety.
"We view the open carrying of unloaded handguns as a threat to the safety of the communities we police and the safety of our officers," said David L. Maggard, Jr., president of the California Police Chiefs Association. "The governor's leadership in signing this legislation will help assure that felons and gang members cannot openly carry an unloaded gun with impunity, all the while carrying the ammunitions for the weapon on their person."
Livermore police Officer David Blake said that, while he respects constitutional gun rights, the open carrying of guns has had a negative impact on the community, prompting numerous concerned calls from citizens.
"We can't prejudge what the intentions are—we treat all guns as if they are loaded," Blake said.
Bay Area gun control advocates also commended the governor's decision on the open carry bill Monday.
"We are elated that the governor had the courage to stand up to the NRA and stand with law enforcement and many victims of gun violence to pass AB 144," said Karen Arntzen, who works with the Contra Costa County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Over the past two years, Arntzen has helped organize protests at Bay Area restaurants where open carry proponent groups have hosted armed meetings. Those groups include statewide chapters of Responsible Citizens of California, an organization that advocates the right to open carry.
Yih-Chau Chang, the organization's press secretary, said the group was disappointed with the governor's approval of AB 144, but that "this certainly is not going to stop the open carry of handguns." He said open carry proponents statewide are already planning to challenge the law in court.
Chang added that many such advocates, including himself, carry exposed, unloaded handguns on a daily basis and will likely choose to openly carry unloaded long guns in lieu of handguns once the law takes effect in January.
—By Bay City News Service