What would you do if you walked into a downtown McDonald's and were confronted with a group of men carrying guns? If you are like most of us, you would probably flee for your life and then immediately call the cops. However, in California and many other states, there is not much the police could do except keep a close eye on the armed men.
While some states ban the practice of "open carry" of weapons, most states permit the open carrying of firearms, often with few or no restrictions. Ironically, some of the Southern states like Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and South Carolina ban open carrying of weapons - a vestige of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. However, in the wake of the Tucson shootings, efforts have begun to repeal "open carry" laws that have been exploited for political purposes by the more extreme elements of the gun rights community.
In California, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino has introduced a bill that would repeal the "open carry" loophole in state law. The bill, which is supported by police organizations, has also been introduced in similar form in the Los Angeles City Council. Although a repeal bill was introduced in the California Assembly in 2010, it died because of opposition from gun rights activists. However, Portantino and other supporters hope that recent events, including several shootings at Los Angeles schools, will tip the balance toward repeal.
It is worth noting that the "open carry" movement, which featured visits by gun-toting men to Starbucks, is controversial even within the gun rights movement. Charles Cotton, a prominent gun rights activist and NRA Board Member, wrote on his blog, "The open-carry issue has pitted gun owners against one another like no other issue. Even the so-called 'assault weapons' ban didn't generate so much hostility between friends." Cotton, who believes that the open-carry movement will "damage our ability to promote the interest of gun owners in the future," points out that the NRA has not taken a position on open-carry legislation in Texas, which would lift the ban on carrying weapons openly in public.
Ironically, the first legislation in California to restrict public carrying of firearms came in 1967 in response to members of the Black Panther party openly carrying guns, notably in front of the State Capitol. This prompted the passage of the Mulford Act, which prohibited the public carrying of loaded firearms. The bill was signed into law by none other than Governor Ronald Reagan. In that case - as in the case of the "open carry" movement in the Starbucks stores - the legislation was prompted by provocative displays of firearms aimed at making a political point.
There is simply no rationale for the open carrying of weapons, an act which itself can be viewed as a provocation. Even arch-conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia has written that "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
Some gun rights advocates have argued that the Tucson shooter might have been stopped if one of the bystanders were carrying a gun. In fact, it was reported that there was an onlooker who had a licensed gun. Interviewed after the shootings, the onlooker admitted that, in the confusion of the moment, he had very nearly shot the wrong man - one of the heroes who had wrestled the shooter to the ground. So much for the wisdom of more guns on the scene.
As the son and grandson of career Army officers and one who grew up with guns - I got my first .22 when I was twelve years old and hunted often with my grandfather - I cannot begin to see the rationale for permitting the open carrying of guns in public. I cannot imagine that my father and grandfather - who had witnessed the horrors of weaponry up close - would ever have supported publicly introducing weapons carried openly by civilians in a public place. It is a recipe for mayhem and should be banned once and for all.