California Bans Open Carrying of Handguns

California has outlawed the open carrying of handguns in public, a move that bucks a national trend that generally has loosened restrictions on firearms.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will make it a misdemeanor to carry an exposed and unloaded handgun in public or in vehicles. Violators face up to a year in prison and a fine of as much as $1,000.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, Gov. Jerry Brown, who owns three guns, said he signed the measure at the urging of California police chiefs. A key concern among law enforcement authorities is the tension created, potentially escalating into violence, when someone sees another person carrying a gun without knowing whether it is loaded or unloaded.

The Associated Press noted, however, that the new law could have the unintended effect of prompting gun rights activists to protest by openly carrying rifles. The law does not bar the public carrying of unloaded rifles or other long-barrel weapons. As a political statement, activists previously have shown up at coffee shops and other public places with unloaded handguns.

The new law also provides exemptions for hunters and people going to gun shows or shooting ranges. Likewise, it doesn’t apply to people who have permits to carry concealed weapons.

Brown signed other gun control measures, too, including one requiring the state Justice Department to keep records on rifle sales to help law enforcement authorities solve crimes.

California is now one of only five states to ban the public display of handguns. Elsewhere around the country, laws relaxing controls on guns has been the general rule, with the support of the wave of Republican governors who swept into office last year.

As the Times pointed out, four states recently passed laws allowing guns to be carried anywhere, including churches, bars and government buildings.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

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