US federal appeals court rules California COVID-19 gun shop shutdowns unconstitutional
Norm_Bosworth / Pixabay
US federal appeals court rules California COVID-19 gun shop shutdowns unconstitutional

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Thursday ruled that two California counties violated the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms when the counties forced gun shops and firing ranges to close in 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The National Rifle Association and pro-gun groups sued California in March 2020 because of the shutdowns. District courts ruled in favor of the two counties, Los Angeles and Ventura, and held that gun stores were not immune from shutdown orders for nonessential businesses.

A three-judge panel rejected the district courts’ rulings. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the forced closure of gun stores, ammunition shops, and firing ranges violated law-abiding citizens’ right to keep and bear arms because buyers can only obtain guns by going to gun stores in person.

Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote that the Second Amendment “means nothing if the government can prohibit all persons from acquiring any firearm or ammunition. But that’s what happened in this case.” He explained: “These blanket prohibitions on access and practice clearly burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment and fail under both strict and intermediate scrutiny.”

VanDyke wrote a concurrence to his own ruling, stating that he believes the majority of judges in the Ninth Circuit would disagree with him. In the concurrence, VanDyke predicted that a larger panel would hear the case en banc and wrote an “alternative draft opinion” in favor of Ventura County to “demonstrate just how easy it is to reach any desired conclusion under our current framework.”

A second concurrence was authored by Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, who wrote that “neither pandemic nor even war wipes away the Constitution.”

Ventura County spokeswoman Ashley Bautista addressed the ruling, stating that Ventura County “believes the case was correctly decided at the District Court level and is disappointed with the three-judge panel’s decision.” The counties can ask the full Ninth Circuit to review the ruling or petition the US Supreme Court.