by John | January 20, 2014 12:45 pm
As fast as California lawmakers can write new gun-control laws, Second Amendment groups are challenging them in court.
Earlier this month, a state senator, who has expressed support for racial profiling of ammunition sales, introduced legislation to require background checks and gun registration for weapons assembled at home. Senate Bill 808, authored by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, would require anyone who makes or assembles a firearm to first apply to the Department of Justice for a unique serial number or other identifying mark.
If recent gun-control battles are any indication, the bill's strongest challenge won't come during the legislative process. Instead, it can expect to face a serious challenge from the nation's leading Second Amendment advocacy groups that are taking their cause to court.
This strategic shift from the legislature to the courthouse is evident with two legal challenges to a seven-year-old California law that requires “micro-stamping” of all semi-automatic pistols sold in the state.
Back in 2007, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the country's first micro-stamping requirement. Assembly Bill 1471, authored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, required all new semi-automatic pistols sold in the state to use advanced laser technology to imprint the gun’s make, model and serial number.
However, the mandate was slated to take effect once micro-stamping technology became available from more than one manufacturer unrestricted by patents. On May 17, 2013, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris provided the necessary certification.
Earlier this month, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, representing all the major firearm manufacturers nationwide, filed suit in Fresno Superior Court challenging the law. The gun groups say it relies on unproven and unreliable micro-stamping technology.
“There is no existing micro-stamping technology that will reliably, consistently and legibly imprint the required identifying information by a semiautomatic handgun on the ammunition it fires,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel. “Manufacturers can not comply with a law the provisions of which are invalid, that cannot be enforced and that will not contribute to improving public safety.”
The challenge in state court is matched by a lawsuit in federal court that seeks to invalidate California's handgun roster.
Last June, attorneys for the Calguns Foundation and Second Amendment Foundation filed an amended complaint in the federal civil rights case Peña v. Cid to include a challenge to California’s handgun micro-stamping regulations. The original lawsuit filed in 2009 contended that the roster regulations constitute an arbitrary list of “acceptable” handgun models approved by the state.
“California's attempt to limit the availability of handguns to her citizens is so broad that it makes it impossible to purchase the revolver that the U.S. Supreme Court has specifically ruled had to be registered to Dick Heller, whose case struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and affirmed that the Second Amendment protects an individual civil right,” said Gene Hoffman, chairman of The Calguns Foundation. “Now that the state requires micro-stamping, it’s unlikely any new make or model of pistol will be added — making it even clearer that this is an incremental ban on firearms.”
Hoffman is optimistic that his group's challenge will be upheld based on oral arguments at the December court hearing.
“In lingering a bit beyond the one-hour mark, it was clear that the court had a full picture of the briefing and the record as well as a clear understanding of the issues and gravity of the case,” Hoffman, a founder of the Calguns Foundation, wrote based on his observations of the hearing.
Calguns Foundation, in particular, has found repeated success in court. Last week, a judge sided with Calguns against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The lawsuit accused the Sheriff’s Department of violating state law by forcing citizens to first obtain permission from a local police chief before applying for a concealed weapon permit. In her ruling in the case of Lu v. Baca, Judge Deirdre Hill ruled that the sheriff’s policy functioned as a de facto ban on handgun carry licenses for Los Angeles County residents. Now, the department must begin accepting and processing handgun carry license applications.
“This decision means that all Californians need not jump through more hoops than those required under state law in order to apply for a handgun carry license and exercise their Second Amendment rights,” said Hoffman.
Since 2009, the grassroots organization has brought multiple lawsuits against licensing authorities for failure to comply with state laws. As part of this Carry License Sunshine and Compliance Initiative, the group has routinely relied on public records requests to obtain license application records, department policies and other public documents related to concealed weapons permits. Calguns says that nearly 30,000 handgun carry licenses have been issued since it began the initiative.
In 2011, Calguns Foundation believed that then-San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey was failing to comply with California’s conceal carry laws. Under state law, all agencies that have the authority to issue firearm permits must create and publish a written policy on the process. The law, authored in 1998 by then-Assemblyman Rod Wright, ensures that the controversial program is uniformly applied.
Ultimately, it was a public records request that confirmed the group’s suspicions: The sheriff had selectively enforced the law. The office had awarded a permit to the sheriff’s legal counsel, while simultaneously denying other permits. It was only with the documents obtained by a public records request that the group had the necessary evidence to force compliance.
In addition to Calguns Foundation, the Second Amendment Foundation has filed similar “right to carry” lawsuits.
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