Gun groups claim 2A civil rights win in California county

A gun law was shot down in the California Bay Area on Monday using a mapping software to prove gun dealers were unjustly being prevented from setting up shop.

The decision was reached in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found unconstitutional the law prohibiting gun stores from being established within 500 feet of a residential zone, schools or day care centers, another firearms-related business or places where liquor is sold or served.

Plaintiffs in Teixeira, et al. v. County of Alameda used geographic information systems, or GIS mapping software to prove no area existed anywhere within the county to allow for new gun stores.

Those backing the gun dealers rejoiced, calling this a win for civil rights.

“Today’s decision means that Alameda will have to try and defend its gun ban using real evidence and sound legal arguments rather than just saying that gun stores are unwelcome in their county,” Brandon Combs, executive director of The Calguns Foundation, told Guns.com. “Given California’s legal requirements to use licensed dealers for firearm transfers and background checks, it’s important that retailers are able to open their doors—and keep them open.”

For Judge Barry G. Silverman, who sat on the panel that decided the case, the county ordinance was not a violation of civil rights.

“The first thing you need to know about this case is who the plaintiffs are,” Silverman wrote. “They are not individuals who claim the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense or for other lawful purposes. Rather, they are entrepreneurs (and their supporters) who want to operate a gun shop in an area of Alameda County that is not zoned for that use.”

Silverman continued, citing records that there are at least 10 gun stores in the county already operating lawfully.

“When you clear away all the smoke, what we’re dealing with here is a mundane zoning dispute dressed up as a Second Amendment challenge,” Silverman wrote.

Combs begged to differ.

“Judge Silverman may not think that defending civil rights from de facto regulatory bans enacted through local zoning laws is important or exciting, but our exclusive interest is in defending the Bill of Rights from the whims of a disinterested or hostile majority,” Combs said. 

An estimated 95.3 percent of California residents live within 10 miles of the state’s 1,782 gun dealers, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there were 55,431 firearms dealers in the country in 2014.   

In 2010, John Teixeira, Steve Nobriga and Gary Gamaza attempted to open their own firearms business under the name “Valley Guns & Ammo” in San Leandro, Guns.com previously reported. Their plans were to sell guns and ammunition, offer firearms training and gunsmithing services.

Teixeira, having previously owned a gun shop in the county, was familiar with the hoops he was required to jump through to obtain a conditional-use permit required of the business type, according to the court opinion. The group found their desired location and hired a survey team to measure the distance to prohibited buildings nearby, several of them exceeding the required 500 feet by just over 30 feet.

The county conducted its own survey and concluded Valley Guns was only within 446 feet of a residential property nearby. It decided to measure from the buildings’ exterior walls instead of from door to door as the gun shop had done. After more local deliberation, the county’s Board of Supervisor’s effectively voted to revoke the shop’s permit, so the gun group challenged its decision in U.S. District Court.

In his initial argument, Teixeira raised a study he commissioned which found “there are no parcels in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County which would be available for firearm retail sales” and that the zoning ordinance “is not reasonably related to any possible public safety concerns” and “effectively red-lin[es] … gun stores out of existence.”      

Imran A. Khaliq, who did not respond to a request for comment, filed a brief on behalf of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Youth Alive! in support of the defendants.

Donald E.J. Kilmer Jr. and Charles W. Hokanson represented the plaintiffs. Gun rights darling Alan Gura also filed an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms – an affiliate of the Second Amendment Foundation – in support of the plaintiffs.

Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, who voted in favor of the plaintiffs, cited McDonald v. City of Chicago, the SAF’s 2010 landmark case, in which the Supreme Court determined the Second Amendment applies to each of the states.   

“The right of law-abiding citizens to keep and to bear arms is not a ‘second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees that we have held to be incorporated into the Due Process Clause,’” O’Scannlain wrote.