The Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday voted to approve Anthony Portantino’s bill banning the open carry of handguns.
Current state law bans people from carrying loaded firearms in public, but in the past few years "open carry" advocates who wear unloaded weapons in coffee shops and other public venues have gotten increased attention in California.
AB 144, which passed committee 5-2, makes it illegal to carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street. Those who are exempt include law enforcement personnel, hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under specified licensed circumstances.
Last year, despite being passed by both houses in the legislature, similar legislation failed to reach the governor’s desk due to a large number of controversial bills on file at the end of session, said Michael Tamariz, a Portantino spokesman.
"It was more procedural than policy, this issue dying last year,'' he said, noting he doesn't anticipate logistical problems this year.
Of Tuesday's hearing, Portantino said law enforement personnel articulated well the need for legislation that prevents people from sporting an unloaded gun on one hip and bullets on the other.
"This bill closes a loophole that currently puts main street California at risk,'' he said.
While it is already against the law in California to carry a loaded firearm in public, open carry would allow gun owners to display unloaded weapons. If AB 144 is passed, violation of the law would be punishable with misdemeanor charges of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Law enforcement officials have sought the ban on the open display of firearms for a while, with Portantino taking up the cause with the “open carry” ban. The measure is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and PORAC – rank and file police officers. Representatives from both groups testified at Tuesday's hearing.
The Los Angeles city council recently voted to support AB 144 and asked the L.A. City Attorney to look into writing a similar law banning open carry handguns in Los Angeles.
The bill will go through another committee for debate and amendments before reaching the full floor and then the senate. There is no set timetable on the bill, but in recent years, most legislation has taken until the end of the legislative session in September to get passed and onto the governor's desk.