A new California law that would bar licensed gun holders from carrying their firearms into an array of public places will not go into full effect on Jan. 1 as scheduled, after a federal judge blocked major parts of it as unconstitutional Wednesday.
The law, Senate Bill 2, was part of a slate of new gun control measures passed this year by California Democrats in response to two things: a sweeping U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reined in gun control measures nationally last year, and several high-profile mass shootings in the state this year — including in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park.
In his decision to block the law Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote that the law’s “coverage is sweeping, repugnant to the Second Amendment, and openly defiant of the Supreme Court.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed the bill into law and has called for tougher gun restrictions in the state and at the national level, immediately swung back with his own statement in defense of the measure.
“Defying common sense, this ruling outrageously calls California’s data-backed gun safety efforts ‘repugnant,’” Newsom said. “What is repugnant is this ruling, which greenlights the proliferation of guns in our hospitals, libraries, and children’s playgrounds — spaces which should be safe for all.”
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, in his own statement, said Carney “got it wrong,” and the state will appeal his decision to a higher court.
The law would have precluded licensed gun carriers from having their firearms on public transportation, at public gatherings and special events, in parks and at playgrounds, in stadiums, arenas and casinos, in medical facilities, religious institutions or financial institutions, anywhere that liquor is sold and consumed, in all other private commercial spaces where the owner has not explicitly posted a sign to the contrary, and in many parking areas, among other places.
Democrats had championed the law as a workaround to the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. vs. Bruen last year, which held that sweeping restrictions on licensed gun holders to carry their weapons in public were unconstitutional, in part because they stripped those people of their constitutional right to self-defense.
The Bruen decision made certain exceptions, including for bans on guns in certain “sensitive places” that historically had been protected from gun holders — such as in schools and courtrooms. State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank) introduced SB 2 as a means of extending the list of “sensitive places” under California law.
The law was to apply to concealed-carry permit holders in major metropolitan centers such as Los Angeles but also to open-carry permit holders in rural, less populated parts of the state.
In his ruling Wednesday, Carney, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the new law went too far — as the “sensitive places” exception cited by the Supreme Court had to do with relatively few, historically restricted places, not most public spaces in society.
He said an injunction against the law taking effect as litigation in the case continues was warranted because those suing the state over the measure are likely to win their case and would suffer “irreparable harm” if they weren’t allowed to carry their firearms in the meantime.
Carney also said that focusing new gun restrictions on people who have permits to carry guns in the state made little sense from his perspective.
“Although the government may have some valid safety concerns, legislation regulating [concealed carry] permitholders — the most responsible of law abiding citizens seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights — seems an odd and misguided place to focus to address those safety concerns,” Carney wrote.
“They have been through a vigorous vetting and training process following their application to carry a concealed handgun,” he wrote. “The challenged SB2 provisions unconstitutionally deprive this group of their constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.”
Carney’s order applies to the “sensitive places” restrictions of SB 2 and does not apply to other parts of the new law that have to do with permitting rules.
Chuck Michel, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued the state to block the measure, praised Carney’s ruling.
“California anti-gun owner politicians refuse to accept the Supreme Court’s mandate from the Bruen case and are trying every creative ploy they can imagine to get around it,” he said in a statement. “This law was an attempt to make permits to carry a firearm to defend yourself or your family useless because permit holders wouldn’t be able to drive across town without passing through a prohibited area and breaking the law.”
Michel said “we are all safer and criminals are deterred when law-abiding citizens can defend themselves.”
Newsom in his statement said California “will keep fighting” for gun control measures because “the lives of our kids depend on it.”
Bonta echoed Newsom, saying Carney’s decision, if allowed to stand, would “endanger communities by allowing guns in places where families and children gather.”
He also said the state believes that SB 2 “adheres to the guidelines set by the Supreme Court in Bruen,” and will appeal Carney’s contrary decision to a higher federal appellate court in order to “make it right.”
SB 2 was passed along heavily partisan lines. Republicans denounced the measure as being in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen — and ripe for a legal challenge.
The case is now part of a mountain of litigation over California’s gun laws and other gun laws all across the nation in the wake of Bruen. Also under legal threat of being toppled are California’s ban on assault weapons and its ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.