On Friday, the West Coast federal appeals court torpedoed a pair of legal challenges to California’s handgun microstamping law and a carve-out of gun free zones for retired police. The microstamping mandate, part of California’s Unsafe Handgun Act contested before a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last March, was upheld by the court in a 2-1 decision in the case of Pena v. Lindley.
Writing for the majority, Judge Margaret McKeown held the requirement only regulates commercial sales, not possession, and does not hamper the right to keep and bear arms. “[B]eing unable to purchase a subset of semiautomatic weapons, without more, does not significantly burden the right to self-defense in the home,” said McKeown, a 1998 appointment to the bench by President Clinton, to the argument by the lawsuit’s backers who stressed they were unable to buy the majority of popular new semi-auto handguns from such companies as Smith & Wesson, Ruger and Glocks as they could not pass the state’s 2013 microstamping requirement. “Indeed, all of the plaintiffs admit that they are able to buy an operable handgun suitable for self-defense — just not the exact gun they want.”
When presented with the fact that the state’s approved handgun roster in 2013 contained 883 semi-automatics but by 2017 had contracted to 496, McKeown argued that, “It is not the number of handguns on the roster that matters, it is the impact on self-defense in the home,” going on to say that some models could have fallen off the list for reasons “wholly unrelated” to microstamping and that those who want can always buy off-roster handguns in private transactions.
In June, the California State Supreme Court upheld a similar challenge backed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute. The gun groups argued the requirement for semi-auto handguns to mark cartridges with a microscopic array of characters, that identify the make, model and serial number of the pistol upon firing is “impossible to accomplish” and has only worked to artificially limit choices available to California gun buyers.
The court, in a 19-page ruling, said that the law is the law, regardless of what was or wasn’t possible. The NSSF and SAAMI last month filed a notice that they intend to appeal. The industry groups say no known manufacturer is currently marketing a handgun capable of microstamping.
Gun free zones exception
A second case before the court, one argued six months ago by a group of gun owners against the state, challenged the carve-out under the state’s Gun-Free School Zone Act for retired law enforcement.
The plaintiffs held that retired officers were private citizens and allowing them to carry concealed handguns on school grounds in the state violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The carve-out, added in 2015 to a measure that ended the ability of those with concealed carry permits to bring their guns on public school campuses in the state, came after pressure on California lawmakers by powerful police lobby groups. This, argued the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, wasn’t fair. The court did not agree and upheld the exemption unanimously.
“Accommodating one interest group is not equivalent to intentionally harming another,” said Judge John Owens for the three-member panel. Owens, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 2014 appointment by President Obama, went on to say that the lobbying effort by the police group during the bill’s legislative process is constitutionally protected and that the law “was not enacted to harm CCW permit holders,” but rather for public safety.