Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Law Banning Gun Sales on County Property Not Preempted—S.C.
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Los Angeles County and other counties and cities in California have the power to ban gun sales on government-owned property, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a 6-1 ruling on a case certified to the state high court by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the justices said a 1999 Los Angeles County ordinance did not improperly tread on state prerogatives.
The law was adopted in the wake of shootings by a self-proclaimed racist at a Jewish Community Center and was aimed squarely at the long-running Great Western Gun Show at the county owned Fairplex fairgrounds in Pomona.
Ruling in a companion case, the Supreme Court yesterday also found that a more stringent Alameda County ordinance that bans gun possession on county property is not preempted by state law.
Both majority opinions were written by the Supreme Court’s newest justice, Carlos Moreno, who previously served on the federal bench in Los Angeles.
Moreno wrote that a state law regulating sale of firearms at county gun shows does not preempt county laws banning sale of guns and ammunition on county property and does not unduly infringe on the power of the incorporated city where the property lies.
Citing 1997 figures that show 1,385 firearms deaths in the county and 2,651 hospitalizations for non-fatal firearms injuries, Moreno said the cost of making guns available through shows in urban counties like Los Angeles could be different than in rural counties.
“We perceive nothing in state law that impliedly forbids a county from withdrawing its property from use as a venue for gun show sales based on its own calculation of the costs and benefits of permitting such use,” Moreno said.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose motion formed the basis for the ordinance, applauded the ruling.
“This is a giant victory for us and for public safety in the county of Los Angeles,” Yaroslavsky said.
But the case is far from over.
Great Western Shows, Inc. filed suit in federal court in 1999, soon after the ordinance was passed, based on First Amendment, equal protection and state preemption claims.
U.S. District Judge Richard Paez granted an injunction against enforcement pending trial based solely on the state preemption claims, and Great Western conducted its final show at Fairplex. It has since left the county and conducts its shows in Las Vegas.
The county appealed the injunction and the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in August 2000. The court then certified the case to the state Supreme Court, which heard argument in January.
Yesterday’s ruling sends the case back to the Ninth Circuit, which could lift the injunction or send the matter back to the District Court, who has yet to hear the case on the constitutional claims.
Deputy County Counsel Lawrence Hafetz, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said he believed the county would prevail on the constitutional grounds as well.
That sentiment was echoed by Yaroslavsky, who said he crafted the law carefully to assure that First Amendment rights were protected. Unlike with the Alameda County law, for example, the Los Angeles ordinance permits gun shows on county-owned property—just not sales.
Michael Wright of the Century City firm of Case, Knowlson, Jordan & Wright, counsel for Great Western, said the case was far from over.
“Of course we are very disappointed about today’s ruling,” Wright said. “But the big picture here is that we have a good case. We still have all of the constitutional claims intact.”
He also criticized the process by which his clients have had to wait for a state court ruling before proceeding with their federal suit.
“My client has been asking for his day in court,” Wright said. “He’s never had that day.”
Representatives from at least 20 cities and counties filed amicus briefs urging the justices to grant them power to regulate gun sales on properties they own.
Also filing as amicus was the Los Angeles County Bar Association, represented by former County Bar President David Pasternak.
“I think it’s a very significant ruling,” Pasternak said. “You have a number of municipalities around California that are watching this.”
In dissent, Justice Janice Rogers Brown said gun sale bans by a local government “exceeds its regulatory authority.”
Gun industry representatives said blocking weapons shows would create a slippery slope to outlawing other types of trade shows.
“Suppose a county enacted an ordinance saying people who like to engage in the hobby of collecting Indian artifacts can no longer hold shows at the county fairground”? asked Donald E. J. Kilmer Jr., a gun industry attorney. “How do you think that would sit?”
He said the gun industry’s biggest worry is that one California local government after the next would ban them. He added that no other state allows their local governments to ban gun shows on their property.
The cases are Great Western Shows v. Los Angeles County, S091547 and Nordyke v. King, S091549.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company