SAN LEANDRO, Calif. -- A small group of people carrying big guns gathered Saturday in this Bay Area suburb for an event blending political theater, self-promotion and freshly brewed concerns about constitutional rights.
The intent was to raise awareness of the legal right of Californians to carry unloaded rifles and shotguns in public. The venue was a corner of a shopping-mall parking lot. And while mall management roped off 165 spaces to accommodate the rally, no more than 30 opponents of gun-control laws stopped by the midday event.
"It takes a certain amount of courage for people to show up in public with a long-range rifle," suggested Yih Chau Chang, who's active in what is known as the open-carry movement.
Dressed sharply in a striped shirt and tie but with no weapon in view, Chang, of Dublin, Calif., organized the hourlong event and happily answered questions from media people, who outnumbered gun owners for the first 20 minutes. Also taking a center role was Adnan Shahab, a Republican candidate for the state Assembly seat that includes San Leandro.
Both men stuck to their talking points: that Gov. Jerry Brown violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by signing into law a ban on gun owners openly carrying handguns. The law that goes into effect Jan. 1 does not include rifles or shotguns.
"I'm not here trying to intimidate people," Shahab said amiably in response to one question, a 12-gauge shotgun slung over his shoulder. "Our government is trying to make life difficult, and this is the only option" for self-protection."
The open-carry movement has held similar public gatherings in the past, albeit not with such firepower. A few demonstrators were newcomers, stirred to action by the new state law.
Michelle Puphal and Lou Marcus, for instance, drove up from San Jose for the event. Neither carries weapons in public; both say that there are occasions when such actions would be justified, as when someone is working late hours in a dangerous neighborhood.
"Taking away constitutional rights like this is ridiculous," Puphal said. "People need to be educated."
Puphal was one of two weapon-bearing women at the rally -- a novelty that caused another open-carry supporter to come over with his camera.
"Can we get a picture?" he asked. "We get taken for granted as white male gun nuts."
Mall management had roped off several rows of parking near 24-Hour Fitness, anticipating open-carry supporters as well as opponents. The latter were entirely absent.
"Where are our rights?" fumed Kathy Wilson of Oakland, who was late to her yoga class as a result. "There should be a different place for them to protest."
Wilson supports the right of people to bear arms when they are concerned about their own or their family members' safety. Still, she didn't embrace all aspects of the open-carry movement.
"They're doing this today to prove a point," Wilson said. "People in their right minds are not going to carry a shotgun into Target."