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Fewer Guns in Public Means More Freedom

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Let's be honest: Guns are made for a purpose. Handguns, assault weapons -- most of the guns found in urban areas are made so that one person can kill another person. They may -- as the NRA likes to point out -- require a human being to actually pull the trigger, but no one buys a gun in order to help them bake cookies, organize their music collection or paint the house. People buy guns to have the option of killing someone should the desire or need arise.

A bill is currently working its way through the California Assembly that would forbid people from keeping that option readily available by banning the open carrying of guns. The bill has passed the Public Safety Committee, and is currently in the State Senate Appropriations Committee. As we await this final step, it is critical to continue to inform people, including the governor, just why openly carrying guns is a bad idea.

First and foremost, prohibiting "open carry" is not about whether you can carry a gun, but how you carry your gun. Let me repeat that, because opponents want to make this a Second Amendment issue, when the Second Amendment has nothing to do with it. Forbidding open carry does not limit your right to own or carry a gun. It merely regulates the way in which you carry your gun when in a public place -- the library, the coffeeshop on the corner, or yes, Huntington Beach, where recently a group of "open carry" advocates walked the sands among children playing, parents seeking recreation, teenagers reading -- openly carrying their weapons.

Who should or should not carry a weapon, or what kind of weapons should be readily available are separate issues. Permits for concealed weapons provide an established, regulated method to determine just who is carrying guns around in public. Banning unconcealed weapons, however, is a specific, responsible measure, one that puts public safety first and foremost and respects the constitutional rights of all our citizens. When someone not in uniform carries a gun in public, they are in effect saying "I could kill you, if I chose." Which in turn poses an immediate threat to my own freedom of speech, freedom of action, freedom to congregate and freedom to be in public spaces. Even free speech advocates recognize that a serious, declared threat to kill someone goes beyond the limits of First Amendment protections. Similarly, the inherent, present threat in an openly displayed weapon goes beyond the scope of protected Second Amendment rights.

Open carry advocates claim they are protecting the public by being a secondary, informal police force. Personally, I prefer the trained, publicly accountable and regulated police force. I know the rules that law enforcement are obligated to protect. I do not know what laws, regulations, whims or prejudices govern the behavior of someone I have never seen before who is carrying a weapon.

Guns are not inherently safe. That is not their purpose. The same day the LA Times ran the story on the front page about the open carry meet-up in Huntington Beach, the inside page detailed a tragic incident of a seven year old accidentally shooting and killing his two year old brother with a gun kept in the house. One has to wonder how safe people would feel if those demonstrating their right to carry weapons openly were not the middle-aged, polo-shirt-wearing, men photographed in the article, but rather a tattooed, twenty-two year old with baggy jeans falling below his waist.

It is no surprise that California law enforcement agencies from the Los Angeles Police Department to the Sheriff's Department oppose open carry. Police are trained to see someone with a weapon as a threat. Civilians toting weapons on their hips makes it hard for the police to do their job and to determine who is the actual danger.

At its heart, open carry promotes a culture of fear -- a sense that we need to be afraid of each other, that we are all vigilantes. Banning open carry is a reminder that we live in community -- that when it comes to violence, there is no "us" vs. "them." That part of living together in democracy is subscribing to the same governing laws, and the freedom to know that we are all able to express ourselves without fear of deadly repercussions from either big government or self-appointed individuals. When someone can walk into a playground, a church, a school or a beach openly carrying a weapon, it strikes a blow not only against our constitutional rights, but also against the very core of our humanity.

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