Guns, Laws, and Panics: How Fear, Not Fact, Informs the Gun Rights Debate


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California has among the strictest gun laws in the country, and couple of local politicians are seizing the opportunity created by the Arizona shooting to make them even stricter.

While most states operate under a "shall-issue" concealed carry weapons (CCW) permitting regime, meaning that anyone who passes a basic background check can get a CCW, California uses the "may-issue" rule, which means the decision is left to the sole discretion of the county sheriff. The result? Approximately 0.1% of California citizens have CCWs, which is almost 20 times lower than in the average shall-issue state.

This restrictive climate has led to the emergence of a burgeoning "Open Carry" movement, wherein citizens carry holstered, unloaded weapons in plain sight. California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino calls the open carry exemption in the law a "loophole," which he intends to close with Assembly Bill 144 (AB 144).

Portantino's fellow Assembly member Lori Saldana tried to ban open carry in 2010, but the bill failed in the assembly. But this time, AB 144 has gained helpful momentum from an unexpected source: Jared Loughner.

"Since the events in Arizona, gun issues have taken on a greater national debate and a greater significance," says Portantino. Earlier this year, AB 144 passed the Assembly and now will head to the state Senate in late August 2011 and then on to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

Open Carry advocate Sam Wolanyk, who once successfully sued San Diego county when police arrested him for open carrying, says that the focus on lawful gun owners is misguided.

"It doesn't matter if you stacked up 50,000 felonies," says Wolanyk of the Loughner situation. "You can't stop a crazy person from doing crazy things."

UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, creator of the popular law blog the Volokh Conspiracy, also says that crafting legislation in the face of rare tragedies is misguided.

"It doesn't make much sense to come up with comprehensive law focusing on those very rare incidents," says Volokh.

Despite the fact that crime rates are down nation wide and that there has never been a reported incident of an Open Carrier hurting someone, Portantino stands firm that the practice is a public danger and a drain on police resources. He also says he has no plans on introducing legislation to loosen up concealed carry laws.

"Just because one person is comfortable with their weapon," says Portantino, "doesn't mean that gives that person the right to infringe on the rights of other people who aren't comfortable."

Approximately 8:30.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Hawk Jensen.

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