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Arizona Shooting Fuels Debate About Open-Carry Gun Law in California

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In this Jan. 15 photo, patrons walk past a makeshift memorial at the Safeway grocery store in Tucson where a gunman opened fire Jan. 8. (AP)

The mass shooting in Tucson last weekend is fueling the gun control debate in neighboring California, with an advocacy organization renewing a push to prohibit firearms in restaurants and state lawmakers taking up a bill that would end the state's open-carry law. 

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence launched a drive last week challenging restaurants and cafes to exert their private property rights and ban guns in their establishments.
The push formalized a campaign the group's California chapter has been loosely waging since last year. 

Karen Arntzen, Brady's California chapter coordinator, told FoxNews.com on Monday she thinks the Arizona shooting should help refocus Californians on gun control and bring more restaurants on board. 

"Since the Tucson shooting, more of them are coming forward," Arntzen said. "It's renewed the gun control debate. It's renewed the focus on mental illness, easy access to guns." 

But open-carry advocates, who have been meeting at California restaurants exercising their open-carry rights over the past year, are not happy with the push and are vowing to counter the Brady Campaign. The California skirmish is one of many taking place across the country as gun control advocates and Second Amendment defenders clash anew in the wake of the Arizona shooting attack. 

After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head last Saturday by a lone gunman, several members of Congress have floated new ideas for restricting access to guns. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is pushing a proposal to prohibit high-capacity magazines, a move criticized by the National Rifle Association. Most recently, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that he wants to require the military to notify federal officials whenever somebody tells a recruiter or other official that they have used illegal drugs -- this way, they could potentially be prohibited from buying a gun. Shooting suspect Jared Loughner, according to a source, was rejected from enlisting in the Army in 2008 because he admitted to using drugs. 

The attack will no doubt play into the same debate in state capitals. Along with the Brady Campaign's push, California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino has introduced a bill to end California's open carry law, which allows state residents to carry a firearm so long as it's unloaded and kept in a holster. 

Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for gun-rights group Responsible Citizens of California, said the network of open-carry advocacy groups in the state will continue to make their case to restaurants. 

"They've taken away the law-abiding citizens' ability to defend themselves," he said of the Brady Campaign and those restaurants that have agreed to ban weapons. He accused the Brady campaign of trying to "capitalize" on the Tucson tragedy and urged restaurants to ignore the hype. 

"The Tucson shooting incident was, unfortunately, a tragedy that no amount of gun control is going to be able to stop," he said. 

The Brady Campaign push has already led to one confrontation, with more likely as the group sets out to protest the meetings of open-carry advocates in California. The latest incident occurred in Orange County over the weekend, when Brady Campaign activists arrived with protest signs as open-carry advocates carrying weapons met across the street at a Corner Bakery café. According to an account in the Orange County Register, the managers at the café eventually asked the open-carry crowd to leave because the presence of reporters, police and protesters was disrupting business. 

One open-carry activist, Robert Cowdell, told the newspaper that his group considered postponing the meeting because of the Arizona shooting, but went ahead with it anyway to make the case that "guns level the playing field." 

Arntzen said a similar protest is set for Jan. 20 at a local pizza parlor. She praised the state legislature for taking up the open-carry bill, but said the Brady Campaign would not wait for lawmakers to crack down on guns in restaurants. 

To those restaurants that want to participate, the Brady Campaign is offering pre-made signs declaring restaurants to be "gun-free" establishments. To those that resist, the campaign is putting their names on a public "name & shame" list of "socially irresponsible businesses." Among those restaurants is Starbucks Coffee Co., which could not be reached for comment. 

Chang praised Starbucks for its resistance to pressure from gun control advocates and suggested other restaurants that follow suit will be rewarded with more business from sympathetic customers. 

"Second Amendment supporters vote not only at the ballot box, but also with their money," he said.