Gun sales to Texas shooter would have been illegal in California – but those laws could be in jeopardy

The guns an 18-year-old used to kill 19 school kids and a teacher in Texas could not have been legally sold to him in California, which has some of the country’s strictest gun control laws . But the future of these laws is being questioned in the courts, particularly the US Supreme Court.

Gun laws can be traced to a mass shooting in San Francisco in July 1993, when a gunman entered a law office at 101 California St., killed eight people and injured six. before committing suicide.

State lawmakers banned the sale or purchase of firearm magazines holding more than 10 rounds and banned “assault weapons,” semi-automatic firearms with features such as detachable magazines and advanced pistol grips that facilitate repeated firings. The state has also banned the sale of handguns and most long guns to anyone under the age of 21.

California also does not allow private citizens to carry guns openly in public and prohibits the carrying of concealed handguns without a license from local law enforcement, which are not available in most populated counties. And so-called red flag laws allow police, family members and co-workers to obtain court orders to remove firearms from those who are dangerous to themselves or others.

Yet Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers are pushing to do more. On Wednesday, they announced plans to fast track a slate of bills aimed at further strengthening California’s gun laws, including measures allowing individuals to sue gun manufacturers for damages caused by their products.

The National Rifle Association and its allies have frequently challenged California’s gun laws in court, but they were largely upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found no violation of the right to bear arms for self-defense. One exception was a May 11 ruling by a Ninth Circuit panel rejecting a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons to anyone under 21 – the 2-to-1 majority citing “young adult heroism who fought and died in our revolutionary army”. In the past, however, the full court of appeals has ordered such cases to be reconsidered by broader panels, which have upheld the laws.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has shunned gun cases for more than a decade, since a 2008 ruling said the Second Amendment, unlike previous rulings, guaranteed the right to own guns. punched home for self-defense, a decision the court applied to state laws in 2010. But the court, with a staunchly conservative majority, is apparently about to change course.

At a hearing in November, most judges seemed likely to strike down a New York state law requiring a law enforcement permit to carry a concealed handgun in public. Such a decision, expected within a month, would affect a similar law in California and allow thousands of guns on city streets.

It could also mean other gun restrictions are in jeopardy.

“I suspect this is the first in a series of cases that (Judges Samuel) Alito and (Clarence) Thomas and other supporters hope to reduce gun regulation,” said John Donahue, a Stanford law professor who filed arguments with the court. supporting New York law. “It’s clear that at least five of the judges have a huge appetite to push the agenda of the gun lobby.”

Thomas accused his Supreme Court colleagues of treating the Second Amendment as a “second-class right.” Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as a federal appeals judge in 2011, voted to overturn the assault weapons ban in Washington, DC, dissenting from a ruling that upheld the ban. Judge Amy Coney Barrett also dissented in 2019 on a federal appeals court that upheld a ban on gun ownership by convicted felons.

“There are other cases pending that could affect California law,” said Esther Sanchez-Gomez, an attorney at the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She said they include challenges in other states to banning large capacity magazines, minimum age requirements for buying or owning firearms and even bans on bringing firearms. in “sensitive places,” such as schools and government buildings, which the Supreme Court upheld in its 2008 decision on home gun ownership.

But Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor and libertarian jurist, said he didn’t expect a flurry of Supreme Court rulings on guns after the decision in the firearms case. in New York, because the court usually waits to see how lower courts interpret these decisions.

Given that most states already allow adults to carry concealed weapons in public — many without the need for a license — the advance ruling “will simply mean that Los Angeles will be like Philadelphia in that regard or like Houston or other cities where law-abiding adults are allowed to transport,” Volokh said. “I’m not sure it will have as much of an effect on crime.”

Federal law now prohibits the sale of handguns to anyone under the age of 21 – but only sales from a federally licensed gun dealer, not at gun shows. fire or other private sales, which are prohibited to minors in California.

In 1994, Congress also enacted a nationwide ban on future sales of semi-automatic assault weapons, similar to current California law, and the possession or sale of magazines containing more than 10 rounds. But the ban, drafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, expired in 2004 when Congress refused to renew it.

Feinstein, who has repeatedly tried and failed to restore the law, has now introduced legislation prohibiting the possession of assault weapons by anyone under the age of 18.

“There is simply no reason why average citizens need weapons of war to go about their daily lives,” she said in a statement Wednesday in response to shootings in Texas and Buffalo. NY, where another 18-year-old killed 10 people, all Black, in a supermarket on May 14. “Texas and New York shooters weren’t old enough to buy a beer, but they were able to buy an assault weapon.”

The prospects for his legislation look no brighter than they did for his previous futile efforts to reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Meanwhile, Newsom and state lawmakers say they’re not waiting for Congress to do more to crack down on the gun industry. Newsom and the two leading House Democrats announced on Wednesday they would fast-track approval of 12 gun-related bills, including a measure allowing residents to sue untraceable ghost gunmakers or illegal assault weapons for at least $10,000 – a bill crafted after Texas’ abortion law that delegates private citizens to sue abortion providers.

The governor said the measure, along with bills to ban advertising of gun sales to minors and to ban the manufacture of ghost gun parts, will likely include emergency clauses so that they take effect immediately.

“We’re not going to turn around and accept the status quo,” Newsom told a news conference, flanked by two dozen lawmakers. “I will sign these invoices with enthusiasm by the end of next month.”

Dustin Gardiner contributed to this report.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @BobEgelko

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