The next time you see a man with a gun on his hip at Starbucks, he could be participating in a group's pro-gun demonstration to advocate the right to openly display side arms in public in California. As the movement to carry weapons at Starbucks, Peet's Coffee & Tea, California Pizza Kitchen and other coffee spots and eateries has gained some steam in the Bay Area this year, an anti-gun group on Friday urged Starbucks to ban the practice in the wake of similar prohibitions by Peet's and CPK.
We weren't sure if such a display of arms would be legal in the city of Los Angeles, so we asked a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman. She said she didn't think so -- not without special permits for concealed weapons and security guards, but she referred us the Los Angeles Police Commission for a better answer. Someone there told us the same deal: "That is my understanding," she said, but she referred us to a commission "gun unit" for a better answer. After calling there we were told that all the gun unit folks were gone for the weekend. (Really!? At 4 p.m.? Must be a city-budget furlough day).
But while our LAPD and Police Commission experts were referring to concealed-weapon permits, advocates from the coffee-and-guns group called Open Carry say that California law in fact allows non-concealed weapons to be carried by law-abiding citizens. Citing the state's law banning concealed weapons unless they are permitted by local police, Open Carry folks say the language of the rule -- "guns carried openly in belt holsters are not concealed" -- explicitly legitimizes holstered, unloaded weapons worn outside clothing in public.
The Los Angeles District Attorney's office seems to concur in the following memo: "Police may stop a person who is openly carrying a firearm in a belt holster and may inspect to see if the firearm is loaded ... However, the person may not be arrested for violating PC § 12031 if ammunition is not in or attached to the weapon so as to allow it to be fired, even though the person may have access to matching ammunition."
There is a myriad of reverse-loopholes, one of them being that you can't carry such a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school; and you can't carry a loaded weapon pretty much anywhere in public: Even unloaded, guns are prohibited in "public buildings (PC § 171b), airport and passenger vessel terminal 'sterile areas' (PC § 171.5), or on the grounds or within 1,000 feet of a public or private school, or on a college campus or property," according to the D.A.'s memo.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department seemed to agree in a similar memo to deputies:
"You respond to a 'man with a gun' call at a local shopping mall," the memo states. "You locate the suspect walking through the mall. He is armed with a handgun carried in a belt holster. You detain the individual and determine that the handgun is unloaded. The subject has two fully loaded, high-capacity magazines for the weapon in his pocket. The subject explains that he is a believer in the Second Amendment and is carrying the weapon because he has a right to do so. What are your options as the handling deputy?"
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A deputy can detain such a subject, check the gun's serial number, and ensure that the person carrying it isn't a felon. "The Open Carry movement provides a very unique situation where a lawfully armed person will present an apparent threat to others," states the memo. " ... The best advice for dealing with any individual who may be trying to test you is: Remain professional, know the law, and enforce it fairly. "
Of course, if you did carry a side arm openly in the city of Los Angeles, you could get shot -- by cops. Just saying. This isn't exactly the Deep South when it comes to guns, and we can tell you from personal observation that a "man with a gun" call to the LAPD brings out the troops, guns drawn, pronto. We're not sure if waiving the concealed-weapon penal code in their faces is going to prevent them from making you eat dirt with your arms out and feet crossed, either.
Meanwhile the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is putting the pressure on Starbucks to do a little anti-gun enforcement of its own. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, wrote a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz:
"I was dismayed to learn ... that Starbucks has decided to allow the carrying of guns into its stores," he wrote. "In response to inquiries about its policy, Starbucks' Customer Relations Department has stated that 'Starbucks does not have a corporate policy regarding customers and weapons; we defer to federal, state and local laws and regulations regarding this issue.' This is an evasion, not a response. The law in California and other states gives businesses the right to bar guns on their premises."