It was clear this was no ordinary community cleanup.
Trash bags? Check.
Glock .45-caliber handgun? Check.
More than a dozen people packing pistols on their hips strolled down the Hermosa Beach strand Saturday, picking up garbage and distributing fliers about the rights of gun owners.
FOR THE RECORD: A story in Sunday's California section about participants openly carrying firearms at a community cleanup in Hermosa Beach misidentified the coffee shop where the group met at the end of the event. It was the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, not Peet's Coffee & Tea.
The event was part of a burgeoning and controversial "open carry" movement nationwide promoting the right to carry guns in public. Although carrying a concealed weapon is illegal without a permit, California allows people to openly carry guns in many areas as long as they are unloaded, though they can keep ammunition with them.
Members of South Bay Open Carry, which organized the beach cleanup, said they hope such events will dispel misgivings about gun owners and make carrying a handgun in public more acceptable. Organizers said they turned the event into a cleanup to demonstrate that they are contributing to the community.
"Just because somebody is carrying a gun doesn't mean that they're a criminal," said Scott Brownlie, a 25-year-old firefighter who stood outside Peet's Coffee & Tea with an unloaded Colt M-4 Carbine slung across his back. "If a lot of people were allowed to carry more … there would be a lot less crime."
Most people walked by the group without a second glance. A police spokesman said the department received no complaints about the event.
Open Carry has drawn criticism from gun control groups that say police, not untrained gun owners, should be protecting the public.
Similar Open Carry gatherings have taken place in recent years in San Francisco and San Diego.
A bill by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego) would, with some exceptions, prohibit civilians from openly carrying handguns. The legislation, which was approved by the Assembly but still needs to pass the Senate, has won backing from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the California Police Chiefs Assn.
Suzanne Verge, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, described Saturday's event as a "public relations stunt."
"People use the guns in a moment of passion, under the influence, when they're angry," said Verge, whose brother was fatally shot in 1978. "I don't think it's going to lessen the risk for children and families who go to the beach."
But Ryan Burbridge and others at the Open Carry event disagreed.
Burbridge, an oil field equipment mechanic, said he carries a firearm whenever he goes shopping or visits a restaurant.
Sporting a Rock Island 1911 pistol in a holster on his right hip and a clip of ammunition on his left side, Burbridge looked toward his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, Brooke, 8, and Noah, 2.
"I would like to have the right to protect my beautiful family and not feel that people are thinking I'm breaking the law," he said. "I'm not trying to intimidate people."
Burbridge said he hoped law enforcement officers would understand that openly carrying firearms is legal. He said he was recently handcuffed and detained before being released when he was peacefully watching a July 4 fireworks show in Long Beach with his family while armed.
Harley Green, founder of South Bay Open Carry, met with Hermosa Beach's police chief last month to explain his group's plans. In response, police published a map that showed large sections of greenbelt, the beach and areas near schools where people are barred from carrying weapons without a permit, even if unloaded.
As the well-armed group spent about an hour picking up litter, the reaction from onlookers was mixed.
Ryan Rogado, a 31-year-old space engineer, stopped to watch.
"If they were handing out weapons here, I would carry one in a second," said Rogado, who owns a handgun but has never worn it in public. "I would be more intimidated by someone who pulls out a concealed weapon."
But as the gun toters wrapped up the event at Peet's, customer Shawna Johnson said the sight of someone armed in public was unnerving.
"I think people have the right to arms," said Johnson, a biology student at Cal State Channel Islands, "but I think it's unsafe that people carry them on the streets."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun