California's open firearm carry prohibitions got a boost Monday, when the state's Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that loaded guns in a backpack or fanny pack is the same thing as concealing the weapon on one's person.
Laws prohibiting people from concealing loaded weapons on their person are nothing new — what's arguably groundbreaking is the decision that bags carried on the body fall under those rules. As explained by the California Attorney General's website, "Generally you may not carry a concealed firearm on your person in public unless you have a valid Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) license...California law does not honor or recognize CCW licenses issued outside this state."
To get a CCW license, one must "Contact your county sheriff's office or, if you are a resident of an incorporated city, your city police department" to get "a copy of their CCW license policy statement and the CCW license application." But it's not as simple as filling out a form: As Shouse California Law Group explains, in addition to the myriad of county-by-county regulations, one must be "of good moral character" and you must have good cause "for issuance of the license because you or a member of your family is in immediate danger."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, CCW licenses are "unavailable in most populous areas of the state except to police and security guards."
People caught carrying a concealed weapon without a permit “on the person or in a vehicle while in any public place" are subject to misdemeanor charges and up to a year in jail, based on a statewide law, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, "passed nearly five decades ago to plug a hole in state firearms laws after members of the recently formed Black Panthers began conducting 'cop watch' patrols of Oakland neighborhoods while openly carrying guns."
And according to the Supreme Court decision issued Monday, that law doesn't just cover a gun covered by a shirt-tail (for example) but extends to backpacks, fanny packs, and any "other container on the body and clothing that is being worn," the Associated Press reports.
"The distinction is untenable," Justice Ming Chin wrote in the court's decision (you can read the full decision in People vs. Wade, S224599 here.)
"It would require, for example that we treat differently a gun in a zippered pocket of a pair of cargo pants -- which would violate the statute -- from a gun in a fanny pack tied around the waist -- which would not violate the statute -- even though, from the perspective of easy access, the gun at the waist might be closer at hand than the gun in the knee pocket of the cargo pants."
The argument over whether or not backpacks and their ilk constituted open carry violations came about following the 2014 prosecution of Steven Wade, who was arrested in Los Angeles after after "police found a loaded revolver in a backpack that he had been carrying and tossed away as officers chased him," the Chron reports.
A trial court initially dismissed the charges against Wade, "citing an appellate court ruling that found a knife contained in a backpack was not carried 'on the person,'" the AP reports. But according to Chin, the two cases differed, as in the knife case, the defendant wasn't carrying the backpack, and a knife can still be used in “such lawful pursuits as fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking and the like,” which Chin says a handgun could not.
Wade "concedes that he carried the loaded firearm, but he argues that, because it was in his backpack, it was not on his person," Ming wrote in the court's decision.
"We disagree. The backpack was on his person and, accordingly, anything inside that backpack was also on his person. Case law strongly supports this conclusion."