"What I'm concerned about is people who have no training can carry a gun for no other purpose than to make a public statement," said the bill's author Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldana of San Diego.
Starbucks caused a nationwide stir recently when it allowed so-called open-carry advocates to bring their weapons into its coffee houses in the states that allow it. But several retailers have banned weapons in their stores, including Peet's Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen.
If signed into law, California would be the fourth state to ban people from wearing guns openly, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a public interest law center based in San Francisco.
Florida, Illinois, Texas and the District of Columbia have a similar open-carry ban.
California and 34 other states allow people to carry a gun without a license. However, only California, North Dakota and Utah require that the weapon be unloaded.
Gun owners in the 12 other states must have a license or permit to carry a handgun, said Benjamin Van Houten, an attorney at the law center. Residents of Alaska and Vermont can carry a loaded gun without a license, while Arizona residents will be allowed to do so as early as this summer under a bill signed last week.
In California, only gun owners with a concealed-weapons permit can carry a loaded weapon, which would not change under the Saldana bill.
Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, a member of the California Police Chiefs Association, said open-carry laws have been on the books since the late 1960s, but gun advocates have only recently begun to demonstrate their right to carry a gun.
"Officers are taught from Day 1 in the academy that guns are a threat," said James, whose association is sponsoring the bill. "This open carry places officers in a position between a rock and a hard spot."
The policy also costs taxpayers and diverts law enforcement from investigating crimes whenever police officers are called to respond to a report of someone wearing a gun, Saldana said. Gun owners say unloaded guns pose no threat to the public.
"If you can't carry loaded, then it's really just a waste of time to ban it because you're asking law-abiding people to disarm themselves from an object that does no harm to anyone because it's unloaded," said Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. "In a time when there's limited taxpayer funds, passing these additional laws that mean absolutely nothing is a waste of taxpayer dollars."
Under current California law, gun owners are allowed to carry ammunition as long as it's not in the weapon. Saldana and other critics say that proximity adds to the public-safety threat.
During a recent news conference, Saldana played a video that showed a person can load a gun in seconds.
Previous attempts to prohibit open-carry of guns have stalled in the Assembly. The chamber's Public Safety Committee is scheduled to hear the Saldana bill Tuesday.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the committee's chairman, supports the ban.
"Whether a gun is loaded or not, it's still an act of intimidation and bullying," Ammiano said.
Saldana said she hopes Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign her bill because he has been responsive to law enforcement concerns in the past. Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said the governor has not taken a position.
Here are some other bills lawmakers are scheduled to consider this week:
-- California would send some child molesters to prison for life for a first offense under a bill named after 17-year-old Chelsea King. A convicted sex offender was charged with murder after her body was found in San Diego County last month. Supporters plan to lobby the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday to advance the bipartisan bill by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego. It would increase prison time for child molesters, require lifetime parole with GPS tracking and make it illegal for sex offenders to visit parks.
-- County sheriffs could charge prisoners a daily fee for staying in their jails, under a bill before the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, says his bill would deter crime by letting indigent inmates work off their debt in rehabilitation programs, or by staying out of prison for two years after their release. The bill is modeled after a program in one Massachusetts county.
-- California would join 47 other states in allowing pharmacists to sell sterile syringes to adults without a prescription, under a bill scheduled to be heard Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The measure would expand an existing pilot program that allows pharmacies in certain parts of the state to sell syringes to individuals 18 and older. Its author, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said it would slow the spread of HIV, hepatitis B and other blood-borne diseases by offering injection-drug users an alternative to sharing used syringes.
-- Customers choosing among the many cell phones on the market would be able to compare not only high-tech features but also the phones' radiation levels, under a bill scheduled to be heard Monday by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. The measure, by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would require manufacturers to include a cell phone's Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR, on its packaging and in the instruction manual. SAR is a measure of the level of radio frequency absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone. Many manufacturers already publish that information on their websites.
-- Gifts given to members of the Legislature would be posted online under a bill proposed by Republican Assemblyman Anthony Adams of Hesperia. The bill would require the Fair Political Practices Commission to post information describing the gifts on its website once a year. Gifts to employees of the Legislature also would be disclosed. Currently, lobbyists are required to report gifts to the secretary of state's office. The bill is scheduled Tuesday before the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee.