The measure was among dozens of bills the governor approved that take effect Jan. 1, including proposals intended to help curb student fee hikes at the state's public universities and exempt hybrid drivers from toll charges in carpool lanes.
Brown vetoed bills that would have increased fines for Californians who use a cellphone while driving and required motorists to provide at least three feet of space between their vehicle and bicyclists they pass.
He has until the end of Sunday to act on proposals sent to him by the Legislature in the session that ended last month. Nearly 200 bills remain on his desk.
The gun measure sprang from the actions of gun rights advocates who toted long guns to coffee shops and other public places to declare their right to bear arms. It took on new urgency after the mass shootings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and a Milwaukee Sikh temple.
The bill allows law enforcement to "focus on pressing duties free from the threat of an 'open carry' stop spiraling out of control or turning deadly," said its author, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge).
Gun rights advocates see the measure, AB 1527, as an infringement on their rights.
Brown signed another firearms measure that permits film and television crews to use sawed-off shotguns as props in productions. The weapons are otherwise illegal in California. The bill, also by Portantino, is AB 1559.
He accepted legislation mandating that the Cal State Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents consult with student groups before increasing fees. The measure also requires the officials to justify any increase and the use of the money, and bars the universities from increasing fees 90 days after the start of the school year.
The bill, AB 970, is by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale).
Brown also signed an exemption for solo drivers with low-emission or hybrid vehicles from charges in "high-occupancy toll," or HOT, lanes. Currently, drivers must pay to use those lanes if they are not carrying passengers. The measure, AB 2405 by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), will affect parts of I-15 in San Diego and I-680 in Alameda and Santa Clara counties.
The governor rejected a bill that would have increased the fine for driving or text messaging while using a hands-on phone, declaring in his veto message that existing penalties were sufficient. "I have found even a $50 ticket unpleasant enough," Brown wrote. "My point here is that the current fines are not trivial but do in fact get drivers' attention."
The measure is SB 1310 by state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).
Brown signed a separate Simitian measure, SB 1303, that establishes statewide guidelines for the installation and operation of red-light cameras. The measure prohibits the use of the devices to raise revenue and makes it easier for drivers to challenge unjustified tickets.
The governor also freed most Internet phone service from state regulation.
Telecommunications giants including AT&T and Verizon Communications, Inc., said the bill Brown signed, SB 1161 by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), locks into law a current "hands-off" policy by the California Public Utilities Commission. The PUC does not regulate the phone service that works by sending voice signals at least partly over digital Internet networks rather than traditional copper wire.
In his signing message, Brown said he approved the bill "to encourage the continued growth of these and other innovative services that have become the hallmark of our state." At the same time, he acknowledged the concerns of consumer advocates, stressing that protection for telephone customers will be safeguarded.
The governor also approved a study to explore the creation of a state-run retirement plan for the private sector. If later approved by lawmakers, such a program would require private employers to withhold about 3% of the wages of employees who do not have traditional company pensions or 401(k) plans and who choose to participate. The state would collect the money, invest it and eventually provide those employees a modest sum when they retire.
State Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), author of the measure, SB 1234, said it was needed to help prevent a tidal wave of "discarded seniors" forced to retire with little savings or income after lifetimes of manual labor.