Q: What is the new “open carry” law and how does it affect me?

A: Effective Jan. 1, 2012, AB144, also known as the “open carry” law, is a ban of carrying an unloaded firearm on your person that is visible to others.

In 1968, then Gov. Ronald Reagan made it illegal in California to carry a loaded firearm. This, however, did not prohibit a person from carrying an unloaded weapon on their hip or anywhere else that is visible to the public. A citizen was still able to carry an unloaded handgun in plain sight and keep ammunition somewhere else on their person, like a pocket or backpack.

Forty-two years later, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the above referenced legislation into law which makes it a crime to openly carry a firearm in a public place or vehicle. This legislation, sponsored by The Brady Campaign, resulted in California becoming the fifth state to prohibit carrying handguns openly in public. According to the Brady Campaign, 33 states still allow open carry of handguns.

The new law, AB144, makes it a misdemeanor when someone is convicted of carrying an unloaded and exposed gun while in public or in a car. Those convicted can face up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.

For those people that have been issued a permit to carry a concealed gun (i.e. a CCW permit), they are not subject to the penalties described above. In addition, it does not apply to those individuals participating in or coordinating hunting or shooting events. This also does not prohibit you from being able to have a loaded firearm within your home.

Should you come across someone that has a handgun in public, exposed or not, please contact the police immediately so we can ascertain the circumstances. You can phone dispatch at (310) 458-8491 or 911.

In addition, for those not familiar with firearms who may come across one, remember the first rule of gun safety — always assume a weapon is loaded. If you find a gun and are unfamiliar with how they operate, do not touch it. Instead, call the police and we will ascertain the status of the gun. Also, if you find that gun in a public place, again do not touch it. It may have been used in the commission of a crime and we do not want to have the evidentiary value of the item compromised. Again, call the police and we will take charge of it.

Q: I see people throw cigarette butts out their car window while driving. Isn’t that a crime and if so, what is the punishment?

A: Yes, it is a crime. Section 23111 of the California Vehicle Code defines it as follows:

No person in any vehicle and no pedestrian shall throw or discharge from or upon any road or highway or adjoining area, public or private, any lighted or non-lighted cigarette, cigar, match, or any flaming or glowing substance.

The punishment for being found guilty is a mandatory fine of at least $100 for the first offense, minimum $500 for the second, and $750 for the third conviction. In addition, there will be extra fees imposed by the court. Along with the monetary fines and in order to try and avoid further offenses, the court will enforce a mandatory pick up of litter or clean-up of graffiti at a time of place of the court’s choosing. The first offense requires a minimum of eight hours, the second 16 hours and the third offense 24 hours of clean up. Our court system typically has the offenders work with Cal Trans.

Based on the inordinate amount of cigarette butts we see on the street, it is interesting that people feel it is perfectly all right to throw their waste on the street or sidewalk, however, would not do so on their own property. Remember, many fires have been started by the simple spark of a smoldering cigarette tossed out of a car. They also clog our sewers and drains, which can cause backup and flooding on our streets.

The bottom line is, if you smoke, don’t throw your butts in the street. This applies to whether you are driving, riding a bike, or walking. Next time you consider throwing it in the street, ask if it is worth hundreds of dollars in fines and hours of your life picking up trash.

This column was written by Neighborhood Resource Officer Jeff Glaser (Beat 3: Downtown, including the Third Street Promenade). He can be reached at (424) 200-0683 or jeffrey.glaser@smgov.net.