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9th Circuit Rules COVID Lockdowns of Gun Stores, Unconstitutional

Last week, a Federal Appeals Court in the 9th circuit ruled in favor of freedom and the Second Amendment.

9th circuit

McDougall V. County of Ventura —

In the case of McDougall V. County of Ventura, plaintiffs challenge the County of Ventura defendants’ orders and actions (1) preventing people from buying guns and ammunition and (2) forced closures of firearm and ammunition retailers and shooting ranges upon threat of prosecution, that violate the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

The case found its way to an appeals court after a U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed it.

Judges Vandyke and Kleinfield —

9th circuit

Judges Lawrence Vandyke and Andrew Kleinfeld sided with the plaintiffs in the case. Judge Vandyke reasoned that locking down gun stores and ranges for 48 days:

wholly prevented law-abiding citizens in the County from realizing their right to keep and bear arms, both by prohibiting access to acquiring any firearm and ammunition, and barring practice at firing ranges with any firearms already owned.

It is hard to argue that eliminating (even temporarily) the ability to purchase firearms, ammunition, or practice with firearms doesn’t make it impossible to exercise the Second Amendment.

What is “Non-Essential” —

The counterargument is that it was necessary to shut down “non-essential” businesses to stop the spread of the COVID19 virus, which originated in China. Vandyke and Kleinfield addressed this issue:

Ultimately, the issue boils down to the County’s designation of “essential” versus “non-essential” businesses and activities. While courts should afford some measure of deference to local policy determinations, “the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.” Heller, 554 U.S. at 636. When a government completely bans all acquisition of firearms and ammunition by closing gun shops, ammunition shops, and firing ranges, it’s one of those off-limits policy choices squarely contemplated by HellerSee id. at 630. The Orders cannot satisfy strict scrutiny.

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What Was the Objective —

The county failed to show that the closures would have met their objectives. The Judges went on:

Applying these principles, the County has failed to meet its burden here. Appellees omit any evidence or argumentation suggesting that the closure of gun shops, ammunition shops, and firing ranges stems the spread of COVID any more than the closure of bike shops, hardware stores, and golfing ranges. Instead, Appellees’ one-sentence justification on appeal of the Orders’ “reasonable fit” is that “social isolation is considered useful as a tool to control the spread of pandemic viral infections.” But this carte-blanche rationale—that has nothing to do with the actual fundamental right at issue—is riddled with exemptions and inconsistencies. If social isolation is the paramount concern, why allow bicycle shops, hardware stores, and golfing ranges to remain open? As noted above, it ultimately boils down to the government’s designation of “essential” and “non-essential” businesses—but nowhere has the government here explained why gun stores, ammunition stores, and firing ranges are “non-essential” businesses while bicycle shops, hardware stores, and golfing ranges are “essential.”

Not only did Appellees fail to provide any evidence or explanation suggesting that gun shops, ammunition shops, and firing ranges posed a greater risk of spreading COVID19 than other businesses and activities deemed “essential,” but they also failed to provide any evidence that they considered less restrictive alternatives for the general public.

Finally —

Even to the layperson, these Judges beat down the county’s defense. You can read the entire opinion here.

We should be thankful for the individuals who challenged a county that overstepped its authority. They are:

KELLY ANN CHAKOV MCDOUGALL, an individual and Trustee; JULIANA GARCIA, an individual SECOND AMENDMENT FOUNDATION;

And thank you to the following organizations who assisted in the legal fight:

CALIFORNIA GUN RIGHTS FOUNDATION; FIREARMS POLICY COALITION, INC.

I was unable to find an opinion from dissenting Judge Ryan Nelson.

Resource —

If you want to stay on top of laws related to gun ownership in all of the 50 states, check out the number one resource called Legal Boundaries by State. The book is available in digital or physical copy. The digital copy is updated any time a new law goes live, and the physical version is updated throughout the year.

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