Exercising Gun Rights in San Diego

There was an interesting story in a recent edition of the San Diego Reader about a group of citizens who exercize their right to openly carry a gun in public. While one cannot carry a hidden (“concealed”) firearm without a permit in California, which, in most cases, is nearly impossible to acquire, a gun may be carried provided that it is carried in plain view–such as in a holster–and that it is unloaded (although ammunition may be carried next to the gun). Other restrictions also apply, such as prohibitions on carrying guns within 1,000 feet of a school, or in government buildings or the “sterile area” of airports. The reporter, Rosa Jurjevics, joins several open carriers as they walk around town and get harrassed by members of the public and the police for merely exercising their rights.

Some may say that open carrying is a bit of a stunt, but if it is, it is a stunt with a purpose. That purpose is twofold: first, to assert one’s right to gun ownership and the means to potentially protecting his or her own life, and second, to inform other members of the public that they have the same rights and do not need to be fearful of law-abiding citizens with guns.

Of course, restrictions on the possession and use of guns only affect people who obey the law–not the criminals! This merely makes law-abiding citizens sitting ducks while the criminals continue to ignore the laws and have less worry that they, themselves, might be shot in the act of a crime by a would-be victim or good Samaritan. (See, for example, John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime on how gun-control laws increase crime rates and make the public less safe.)

Below are some excerpts from the article:

Nate and I take off to his car, where he removes from the depths of his trunk a silver handgun with a wooden handle. This is a Ruger Single Six .22 revolver, he tells me, as he slides it into the borrowed holster I have fixed to my belt. The gun is surprisingly heavy, nestled just below my waistline.

[. . .]

First, I am given instructions on what to do if approached by the police. I brace myself as Nate explains.

“What’s going to happen is, they’re going to want to do a 12031(e) unloaded check,” he begins. “They’ll say they want to check your weapon. You say, ‘Are you requesting or demanding?’ If they say, ‘Demanding,’ you say, ‘I don’t consent to any warrantless searches. But I’m not going to resist.’ And then you stick your hands out, they check your weapon, and it’s done.”

[. . .]

“You don’t have to answer any other questions. You don’t have to give them your ID,” Sam instructs. “It’s technically an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment says you have protection against unreasonable search and seizure. If there’s a woman pushing a baby stroller down the boardwalk, that does not give the police the right to check if the kid is kidnapped. So if you’re in full compliance with the law, minding your own business, they technically don’t have the right to stop you to check if your weapon is unloaded or loaded.”

[. . .]

So if it’s such a hassle, why open carry?

As we walk, the trio explains.

For Sam, 39, who works from home studying “history and behavioral economics independently and try[ing] to figure out what’s going to happen next before everyone else,” it’s mostly about constitutional freedom, a cause he says he’s felt strongly about since childhood. He’s been open carrying for about seven months and heard about it through Nate and, a popular online meeting place for California gun owners and enthusiasts.

“I really believe, and I think that most thinking people believe, that we are slowly losing our freedoms in this country,” he says. “Everything’s become more and more restricted, and nobody seems to know what to do about it. If we would just get back to following the Constitution, America would again be the place it was intended to be, the place where everybody wanted to come. This whole open-carry movement, for me, is really about more than just guns; it’s about liberty and what it means to be a free man.”

Nate, a 22-year-old human biology student, voices another issue: the lack of CCW (concealed-carry weapon) permit issuance. A concealed-weapon license allows one to have a concealed weapon on his or her person. In California, Nate says, concealed-weapon licenses are most commonly issued to lawyers, jewelers, and traveling doctors.

“I knew I wasn’t going to get a CCW permit. I’m not important enough — I don’t make enough money, I don’t have a good enough ’cause,’ according to California — so I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just start open carrying,’ ” he says. “Another reason I started doing it is that it’s a political statement. I’m not important enough for my right to self-defense, so what we do is we just take it out in the open. This is what we have to do.”

[. . .]

Tom began carrying mostly out of political reasons.

“I got alarmed at how radically guns and gun owners are being vilified across California and across the country,” he says. “The laws are being passed willy-nilly, some that don’t even make sense, and it’s time to start pushing back against unfair, unjust laws.”

He, like the others, agrees that the Second Amendment needs to apply to the states as well as at a federal level. He elaborates on a California case recently heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court that tackles this issue, Nordyke v. King, in which Alameda County attempted (and succeeded) in banning guns from its fairground in order to stop a gun show.

“They started a legal action against the city. Another lawyer picked [it] up and has been pursuing it for almost ten years on his own dime, [with] no financial support. And what we’re hoping it will do [is] incorporate the Second Amendment to California.”

[. . .]

He makes the point that, in areas with stricter gun-control laws, crime is higher.

“[In] places where the laws allow the citizens to take their security into their own hands, violent crime goes down significantly,” he says. “Look at Chicago and Washington, D.C., where the citizens are essentially forbidden to own handguns, and the incidents of violent crimes are enormous.” (In June 2008, the Supreme Court struck down Washington D.C.’s ban on handguns.)

Later, he sends me a link to the FBI crime statistics from 2007 (the latest information available). They report some grim facts. In Vermont, which allows the concealed carrying of weapons without a permit, the violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants is 124.3, while in the District of Columbia, it’s 1413.3. Alaska, like Vermont, allows concealed carrying without a permit, and their number is 661.2. In California, it’s 522.6.

[. . .]

Tom doesn’t open carry everywhere. He can’t at work, where he is a technical writer, and doesn’t feel comfortable doing so at church. . . . He will also take it off, if on private property, when asked, such as when he was stopped — and the only time he’s been approached negatively — in a supermarket.

“The whole point is to try and make people aware and comfortable that law-abiding citizens can carry guns without the world coming to an end,” he says simply, “without having to provoke a SWAT incident. We’re very meticulous in obeying the law. We’re very careful about what the law says, what we’re allowed to do [and] what we’re not allowed to do. And the police have endorsed that, verified that.”

Though Tom may be in a minority, there is a growing open-carry movement in San Diego. Tom estimates that there are between 75 and 100 active open carriers locally.

Thanks to Karen De Coster and the LRC Blog on for pointing out the story.