A group of gun rights activists took to the busy streets of Old Pasadena on Thursday with pistols at their hips in protest of a proposed statewide ban on the open carry of firearms.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) is author of a bill backed by the California Police Chiefs Association that would make it illegal for gun owners to openly display unloaded firearms in public places.
Such public showings of unloaded weapons are permitted under current state law, which also allows gun holders to carry ammunition separately on their person.
Pasadena police reported no incidents or arrests during the early evening parade along Colorado Boulevard, where about 30 supporters of the gun rights advocacy group South Bay Open Carry gathered.
Across the street, Portantino joined a counter-demonstration organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence that also included the NAACP Pasadena Branch, the Violence Prevention Council of Greater Los Angeles and members of the Pasadena All Saints Episcopal Church.
“Though these activists have every right to make their point, I think it’s actually helping [our] case because people can see it’s a little over the top. You don’t need a weapon to buy a cheeseburger,” said Portantino, whose district office is nearwhere the pro-gun demonstrators gathered.
Gene McCarthy, president of South Bay Open Carry, argued the law would effectively eliminate Californians’ Second Amendment rights.
“If you can’t get a concealed weapon permit and you can’t open carry, then you can’t do anything. That leaves people in danger,” McCarthy said.
The proposed ban is expected to face a vote of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee as early as May, after which it would go to the Assembly floor.
“Basically, we’re making a statement to protect our right to bear arms,” said open carry activist and Ontario resident Leighanne Nickle. “It’s unlawful for me to carry a concealed weapon, so I have to choose what’s lawful for me at the moment. It makes me feel safe as a woman.”
Following the demonstration, open carry activists found themselves unwelcome at several area restaurants, where window signs provided by the Brady Campaign declared some establishments gun-free zones.
Though gun owners who openly carry their weapons must keep them unloaded, McCarthy said they aren’t sitting ducks against those who would illegally carry loaded, concealed weapons.
“I can probably load this in about two-and-a-half seconds,” he said of the pistol he carried.
This is troubling to NAACP Pasadena Branch President Joe Brown.
“If they really want to find out what goes on when you start carrying handguns, then go up into a crime-ridden area,” said Brown. In parts of nearby Northwest Pasadena or other places affected by gang violence, he said, “you’d probably only make it about a block. A police officer would take you down or somebody would open fire on you.”
Conversely, he added: “I don’t know what would happen if a group of African Americans came over to South Bay to do this same type of thing.”
Nearly all the demonstrators were white.
In addition to the California Police Chiefs Association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the Los Angeles City Council support Portantino’s proposed open carry ban.
Suzanne Verge, an organizer with the Brady Campaign’s Los Angeles chapter, complained that the open carry group’s use of Portantino’s image on an Old West-style “wanted” poster was reminiscent of campaign literature targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D – Arizona) before a gunman shot her and killed six others in January.
“I think it’s reckless,” Verge said.
Portantino introduced his open carry legislation a week after the Giffords shooting.
A previous version of the bill by former San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña passed the Legislature last year but did not reach the governor’s desk before the legislative session expired.