LA, Ventura Counties broke law by closing gun stores during pandemic shutdowns, court rules

Two California counties violated the Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms when they closed gun and ammunition stores in 2020 as non-essential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, a court ruled Thursday. federal appeals court.

Los Angeles and Ventura county officials had separately won lower court decisions claiming that gun shops were not exempt from broader closure orders aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned both lower court rulings.

The Second Amendment “means nothing if the government can prohibit any person from acquiring a firearm or ammunition,” Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote. “But that’s what happened in this case.”

Since buyers can only obtain guns by personally visiting gun stores in California, the 48-day closure of gun stores, ammunition stores, and gun ranges in Ventura County” has totally prevented the county’s law-abiding citizens from realizing their right to own and bear arms,” he wrote.

This, he noted, as bike shops were among those allowed to remain open as essential businesses. The panel adopted the same reasoning in the Los Angeles County case, although the closure there lasted 11 days.

The ruling says governments “cannot use a crisis to trample on citizens’ constitutional rights,” said Michael Jean, director of the National Rifle Association’s litigation attorneys’ office that prosecuted the Los Angeles County case. . He also sued Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties over their Northern California restrictions, but the latter three were dismissed from trial when they revoked their ordinances.

Similar restrictions have been imposed in 10 other states, according to the Gun Policy Coalition, another gun owner rights group that sued: Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.

Three gun owner rights groups and several individuals and companies had sought to overturn lower California court rulings.

Ventura County “believes the case was properly decided at the district court level and is disappointed with the decision of the three-judge panel,” county spokeswoman Ashley Bautista said in an email. . Officials are reviewing the decision and “evaluating our options and next steps.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, named as plaintiffs in the case, did not immediately comment.

Losing parties can usually ask the full 9th ​​Circuit to review the decision of the three justices or go to the Supreme Court of the United States. The country’s high court has been found to be more favorable to gun owners in recent years.

Firearms Policy Coalition vice president of programs Adam Kraut said in a statement that the cases resulted “when authoritarian governments used COVID as an excuse to attack Second Amendment rights.”

The 9th Circuit advisories “support our claims that the COVID closures of gun stores and shooting ranges have violated the Second Amendment rights of Californians,” he said.

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