9th Circuit says California ban on gun sales on state property is constitutional

FILE - California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters at Del Mar Fairgrounds on Feb. 18, 2022, in Del Mar, Calif. On Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez said he will issue an injunction to block part of a new state law that critics say would make it nearly impossible to challenge the state's gun laws in court. Newsom has championed the law and defended it in court. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, File)
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters about gun laws in 2022 at Del Mar Fairgrounds. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / Associated Press)

California laws barring the sale of firearms and ammunition at fairgrounds and other state property are constitutional, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Judge Richard R. Clifton, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, rejected claims by a group of firearm sellers and gun advocacy groups that the laws violated both their 1st Amendment right to free speech and their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

Clifton wrote that the laws don't violate the 1st Amendment because they "solely restrict nonexpressive conduct — contracting for the sale of firearms" and don't violate the 2nd Amendment because they do not "meaningfully constrain" anyone's "ability to keep and bear arms."

Tiffany D. Cheuvront — an attorney for the gun sellers and advocacy groups, including B&L Productions Inc., which holds gun shows in California under the name Crossroads of the West, and the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. — called the decision "extremely disappointing." She said they would appeal.

In a statement to The Times, Cheuvront said the judges "clearly did not understand the connection between 1st Amendment and 2nd Amendment rights when the state is looking to limit foundational rights and discriminate against certain groups of people on state property."

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a statement, called the ruling "commonsense" and a victory for gun safety.

"If other states followed our policies, thousands of lives would be saved," Newsom said, adding that California "won’t stop defending our laws from the right's radical lawsuits."

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, whose office defends state laws in court, praised his staff for "another victory in the battle against gun violence in our state and country."

"Guns should not be sold on property owned by the state, it is that simple," Bonta said in a statement. "Sales of illegal firearms and ammunition, and sales of firearms and ammunition to prohibited persons, have happened on state property and these laws will further help to prevent that going forward."

Clifton, an appointee of President George W. Bush, was joined in the decision by circuit judges Holly A. Thomas and Roopali H. Desai, both appointees of President Biden.

Read more: Firearm restrictions on defendants awaiting trial are constitutional, 9th Circuit rules

The decision resolves two cases in which lower courts had split on the issue. It lifts an injunction one of those lower courts had issued last year blocking state enforcement of the laws.

The decision lands amid a larger legal debate over where states can ban firearms, following a 2022 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that laws infringing on the 2nd Amendment are legitimate only if they are deeply rooted in American history and tradition.

Tuesday's decision upholds a series of state laws that barred gun sales at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the Orange County Fairgrounds and all state-owned property. It sidesteps such historical analysis by finding that the state bans have no substantial bearing on 2nd Amendment rights.

"The plain text of the Second Amendment directly protects one thing — the right to 'keep and bear' firearms," Clifton wrote. "On its face, that language says nothing about commerce, let alone firearm sales on state property."

Read more: If we must rely on 'history and tradition' to assess gun laws, does racist history count?

California's laws do not bar gun sellers from interacting with buyers at gun shows on state grounds, nor do they stop buyers from walking off state property to "immediately order their desired goods from the vendor," Clifton noted.

"Merely eliminating one environment where individuals may purchase guns does not constitute a meaningful constraint on Second Amendment rights when they can acquire the same firearms down the street," Clifton wrote.

A slate of other challenges to California gun laws are making their way through the courts in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2022 decision — including challenges to the state's bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.