A Southern California lawmaker has introduced a new bill to prohibit the "open carry" of unloaded handguns in public places, taking up where Democrats left off last year.

"We have laws to license weapons in California and this bill will improve them. It keeps guns out of public places by individuals who are not properly and legally licensed to carry weapons," Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, said Friday in a news release announcing his AB 144. "Certainly, most folks would not want people walking down the grocery aisle or sitting in a public park displaying weapons. There's a proper place for firearms and having a proliferation of them strapped to hips is something that belongs in a Western movie, not Main Street, California."

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually, or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they're both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that's sharply limited under current law. Opponents say open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers who must check to ensure the guns aren't loaded, in accordance with state law.

Yih-Chau Chang, of San Jose, spokesman for the open-carry advocacy group Responsible Citizens of California, said his group is disappointed but not surprised to see the bill.

"We are prepared to engage the Legislature this year like we did last year."

A similar bill, AB 1934 by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, died in September without a final vote after two days of tense maneuvering; Saldaña was then term-limited out of office. The state Senate approved her bill on a 21-16 vote after state senators Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, and Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, lent last-minute support despite a phone and fax blitz by gun-rights activists. But the bill had to win a concurrence vote in the Assembly, where Republicans threatened to run out the clock on the bill by debating it until after the midnight deadline -- thus also threatening other bills awaiting votes.

Majority Leader Chuck Calderon, D-Whittier, eventually won a motion to delay AB 1934's consideration, and there it died.

The California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California support Portantino's bill, as they did Saldaña's. "The open display of firearms in crowded public places creates very real public safety issues, both for the public and for police officers," CPCA President and San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer said.

"This is a good-sense public safety bill and we are committed to securing its passage."

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