SACRAMENTO – Emboldened by a string of recent favorable federal court rulings, gun rights advocates now aim to overturn California’s longstanding open-carry laws.
Two men from rural Northern California counties say they’ve been denied open-carry permits by local authorities and can’t even begin to start the application process because the state doesn’t give sheriffs the necessary forms. They believe California’s laws, which require applicants to demonstrate “good cause,” amount to a de facto ban and note that the state hasn’t issued an open-carry license since the law went into effect in 2012.
On Wednesday, the two men argued in federal court that the public safety laws infringe on their constitutional and “God-given” right to travel and be in public with loaded firearms.
“The state has taken a broad-brush approach and banned the right to bear arms,” said Amy Bellantoni, attorney for plaintiffs Mark Baird and Richard Gallardo.
The Siskiyou and Shasta county residents sued California Attorney General Xavier Becerra this past April in federal court, claiming the state laws violate the Second and Fourth amendments.
Their case, and several others, could impact California and the few remaining states that restrict or prohibit the open carrying of firearms. California is one of five states that prohibit carrying guns in public, as do Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.
While California law does allow counties with fewer than 200,000 residents to issue open-carry permits, it leaves the decision up to local police chiefs and sheriffs. The plaintiffs say the population requirement is unfair and that the law gives local law enforcement too much discretion.
Under the law, local law enforcement “may issue” an open-carry permit if the applicant is of “good moral character” and “good cause” exists.
During a court hearing Wednesday in downtown Sacramento, the state’s lawyers said California’s open-carry laws are “firmly rooted in history” and enacted to protect public safety. They argued that the Second Amendment doesn’t give Americans an “unconditional right” to carry guns in plain view and cite the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller.
Matthew Wise, deputy attorney general, told the court that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit is an “overreach” and called two of their declarations “misleading and false.”
California has enacted some of the nation’s strictest gun laws over the decades, but many are being challenged in federal courtrooms. Groups are currently challenging open-carry, magazine capacities, ammunition background check and age-based restrictions.
The open-carry lawsuit was filed just days after a gun rights advocates scored a major victory when a federal judge tossed California’s voter-approved ban on high-capacity gun magazines over 10 rounds.
“The Second Amendment does not exist to protect the right to bear down pillows and foam baseball bats. It protects guns and every gun is dangerous,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote.
In addition, a Ninth Circuit panel ruled in July 2018 that carrying guns in public is a constitutional right. The court shortly after decided to revisit the decision and announced an en banc hearing. The court has since stayed the hearing pending an opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York.
The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear the New York case in December, setting up its first gun-rights case since Heller in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller acknowledged the high-profile cases pending in higher courts could impact the Sacramento case, and asked whether the plaintiffs were “laying the foundation” for another.
“It’s hard not to see this as one of those cases,” Mueller said.
The judge, a Barack Obama appointee, asked the plaintiffs’ lawyer to explain how California’s process is denying access to open-carry permits.
“There is no procedure, that’s the problem,” responded Bellantoni. “The statutes provide no procedure.”
Bellantoni claims the state doesn’t provide sheriffs forms or information regarding open-carry permits even if they wanted to issue one, and called the population requirement subjective.
Mueller said she would issue a written order on both motions as quickly as she can and raised the possibility that she may stay the case pending the related matters. Baird and Gallardo seek a preliminary injunction and while the state seeks dismissal.
— By Nick Cahill