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Hoosegow Day: More Pop, Less Bang

A new state law that bans the open carrying of handguns will tone down one of the favorite parts of Fiesta de las Golondrinas.

Hoosegow Day: More Pop, Less Bang

Hoosegow Day is going to be a lot quieter this year. You can credit Gov. Brown and the state Legislature for that.

The annual event features groups of wandering Wild West deputies . If you're dressed like a city slicker, into the traveling jail you go -- and remain until you pony up adequate bail.

These overeager law enforcers like to announce their presence with a few blank shots fired from their antique or replica (but very much real) guns. When they throw you in the mobile slammer, they’ll shoot off another round in celebration.

Bang! Bang, bang!

Make that pop. Pop, pop.

In accordance with a new law Brown signed in October, which became , Californians can no longer “open carry” guns. Even if all they’re doing is shooting blanks.

“They can’t possess anything defined in the penal code as a firearm,” said Lt. John Meyer, chief of police services for San Juan Capistrano. Altering an existing weapon won’t do. They’ll have to buy new replicas, which are essentially a toy with plugged barrels, Meyer said.

Jeff Schroeder, publicity chair for the Fiesta Association, which coordinates all the festivities surrounding Fiesta de las Golondrinas, said he and fellow organizers met with Orange County sheriff’s deputies (the real ones) two weeks ago to discuss the new rules.

Interestingly enough, the new law still allows people to openly carry a rifle, Schroeder said. So a participant who has a rifle could use it to shoot blanks, just like the “olden days” – of last year.

If they want to carry a pistol-like object, it cannot sent a projectile through the barrel at all, Schroeder said. "The gas and paper expulsion [from the blanks] have to come out of the side," he explained. 

About 50 to 60 people are deputized to participate in Hoosegow Day, Schroeder said. While a few already have a substitute fake weapon, others will have to buy one. He expects the cost to be in the $100-$200 range for a good replica, although it must still have the telltale, red-tipped barrel that toys have.

Schroeder expects some people will hold off on the purchase, allowing others to test the waters this year with the new models, he said. So the guns will be quieter and fewer in number.

“We knew this was coming down. It wasn’t a surprise to us. We actually thought it could be worse,” he said, adding some thought they might not get to carry anything that even looked like a gun.

Meyer said the law offers an exception for parade participants. So the cowboys who kick off the Swallows Day Parade with some celebratory shots in the air – about 15 minutes ahead of the rest so as not to scare the equine participants – will get to use their blank-filled, replica (but very much real) guns.

Like always, sheriff’s deputies will inspect all weapons and reasonable facsimiles before the events to make sure no one has live ammunition, Meyer said. He thinks guns aren’t really necessary on Hoosegow Day if the cowboys adopt more of an Andy Taylor persona from The Andy Griffith Show

Schroeder disagrees.

“You gotta have the noise,” he said. “It’s like therapy.”  

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