Open Carriers expose their children to the dangerous practice.
–On March 20, 2011, in Baltimore, MD, a 4-year-old boy shot himself in the face and later died from his injuries. Authorities are trying to figure out… how the boy was able to get access to the weapon…
–On February 14, 2011, in Cherokee County, LA, a 2-year-old boy used a stool to retrieve a gun case in the home, opened the case to remove the small caliber semi- automatic gun that had a round chambered and fully loaded magazine, and shot himself in the upper right chest.
–On January 20, 2011, in Pittsburgh, PA, 5-year-old Gavin Thompson climbed onto a chair near his parents’ bedroom closet and grabbed his part-time police officer father’s duty weapon and accidently shot himself in the head.
Sadly, there are thousands of similar news stories easily found on the Internet. Many accidental shootings happen in the home where children try to emulate the behavior they’ve observed of family members, or at a neighbor’s house where they are playing and find a gun.
A Gun in a Home/Restaurant/Park is a Risk to Your Family
Members of the California Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence know all too well the tragic results of an accidental shooting. Many have lost their own children under these circumstances. The Brady Campaign goes to great lengths to educate the public about the dangers of having a gun in the home, where studies show the gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide or unintentional shooting than to kill in self-defense.
But still accidents happen because children are naturally curious and adults are often careless. We live in a country obsessed with a gun culture. There is big money in this. The gun manufacturing industry, and its lobbying arm the NRA, aggressively market guns for children and teens with false assurances that they can be trained to use them safely. In a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, it was reaffirmed that parents have a constitutional right to own guns in their homes and expose their children to them as they see fit. Some parents do this responsibly, and as the news articles testify, some don’t.
But what about parents who don’t want their children exposed to the gun culture? They monitor TV programs for violence. They discourage playing with toy weapons. They teach their children conflict management with words and not weapons. They ask about the safety of the homes where their children play. They live in fear of getting a call that their child’s school is on “lockdown” because another student brought a gun.
Now we parents have a new worry. What effect does the sight of people openly carrying guns have on our children? Will the presence of unknown, untrained, and unaccountable individuals increase the likelihood of a shootout? Do the large quantities of semi-automatic weapons and live ammunition assembled in one location increase the likelihood of an accident?
An Armed Society is a “Paranoid” Society
Over the last two years, gun rights extremists in California have decided to test an old law — which allows the open carry of semi-automatic weapons with live ammunition magazines readily available — by holding gun gatherings in local restaurants and on public property. They seek to normalize the carrying of firearms by anyone, anywhere, at anytime. The risk associated with having a gun in the home has now been extended to all of us at the park, the beach, in a restaurant or bar, the grocery store, and/or even at church.
Knowing that the general public disapproves, open carriers often stage their gatherings as some kind of “community service” activity such as a beach cleanup or Toys for Tots drive. Often over 100 people attend and bring that many and more semi-automatic weapons along with live ammunition. The “community” would be much better “served” if they left their guns and ammo home.
In reaction to criticism from citizens and law enforcement, open carry groups such as the Responsible Citizens of California (RCC) and South Bay Open Carry (SBOC) have responded with paranoid claims of their rights being taken away. In a decidedly irresponsible and immature manner, they have lashed out with inflammatory rhetoric and graphics to depict anyone who disagrees with them as the enemy. RCC labels our members as “Brady Terrorists,” and SBOC has gone so far as to put a WANTED poster on their website featuring Assembly Member Portantino’s picture. Portantino is the author of AB 144, which will ban open carry.
The NRA is very adept at using paranoia to promote its agenda of dismantling our state and federal gun laws. The gun manufacturing industry is very adept at using fear to sell guns. These messages resonate with paranoid people. No doubt there are reasonable, law-abiding citizens who would like to open carry. But how are the rest of us supposed to know who is a reasonable person and who is a Jared Lee Loughner. Let’s not forget that Loughner was technically a law-abiding, open carrying Arizona citizen who was fully defended by the gun rights folks right up until he shot 19 people. It’s amazing how quickly the “any gun, any time, any place” folks will go from “he’s one of us, he’s one of us, he has the right to own a gun, he’s exercising his 2nd Amendment rights” to “he’s not one of us, he doesn’t represent us, and he’s a deranged loner that probably shouldn’t have had a gun” when something goes horribly wrong.
Provocative Conduct, Dangerous Consequences
While open carriers argue that they are just “exercising their rights,” the open carrying of firearms intimidates the public, wastes law enforcement resources, and creates opportunities for injury and death due to the accidental or intentional use of firearms.
Open carrying poses particular challenges for law enforcement officers who must respond to 911 calls from concerned citizens about people carrying guns in public, and determine if the guns are loaded. Officers cannot run background checks on the individuals to see if they are indeed, “law-abiding citizens” as claimed.
Open carrying does not require a permit, unlike carrying a concealed firearm, for which the applicant must demonstrate responsibility and a need to their respective county sheriff. Open carriers are essentially unknown, untrained, and unaccountable to anyone.
Claims that open carrying is needed for self-defense are not supported by research. Even when a gun is used in self-defense, which is rare, research shows that it is no more likely to reduce a person’s chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action. Instead of improving safety, open carrying needlessly increases the likelihood that everyday interpersonal conflicts will turn into deadly shootouts.
The 2nd Amendment does not confer a right to openly carry a firearm in public. Because open carrying does not impact an individual’s right to self-defense in the home — the core of the Second Amendment as interpreted in District of Columbia v. Heller — and because there are significant public safety reasons to justify prohibiting this dangerous activity, a ban on open carrying would not conflict with the Second Amendment.
Support a Ban on Open Carry
Earlier this year, Assembly Member Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena) introduced AB 144, which will make it a misdemeanor to carry an exposed and unloaded handgun in a public place. The California Police Chiefs Association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, along with the California Brady Campaign Chapters and other gun violence prevention groups strongly urge its passage by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 12th.
But we and others aren’t waiting for the bill to become law. To counter the open carry activities and keep our communities safe, the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence launched a Demand Gun-free Dining — California project, which calls on all restaurants and businesses throughout the state to adopt gun-free policies to protect patrons and employees. To educate the public, CA Brady Campaign members are picketing restaurants where the gun gatherings take place. These protests let the community know about the dangerous dining environment created when unknown, untrained, unaccountable individuals bring lethal weapons into a restaurant or bar.
On April 6th, the Los Angeles City Council asked city lawyers to review a proposed ban on the open carry of handguns on city property — from offices to parks and harbors. We encourage other cities to follow suit. It is absurd that in most public places and in all restaurants in California you cannot light up a cigarette because it has been determined a threat to public health. However, it is perfectly ok to take a lethal weapon along with live ammunition that can kill large numbers of people in a matter of seconds into your local park and coffee shop. Let’s put ideology aside and do the sensible thing to keep our families safe — ban open carry in California.
Dr. Dallas Stout is President of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.