CA city to pay legal fees in industry lawsuit over gun ordinance

A city in northern California will pay the legal fees incurred by two firearms industry plaintiffs to settle a 2013 lawsuit over a newly-enacted gun ordinance.

Pleasant Hill City Council voted Monday to pay $400,000 on behalf of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and City Arms East, one of four gun dealers located within the city, after a three-year legal battle over what the NSSF calls an “unwarranted political decision.”

“We were successful in our goal to protect the ability of federally-licensed firearms retailers to open, operate and grow their businesses in the City of Pleasant Hill,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel. “As we predicted when the city council made its unfortunate decision to go forward with an ordinance, which only put into place duplicative, unneeded regulation and did nothing to enhance public safety, it was very likely that taxpayers would be left paying the tab for what amounts to an unwarranted political decision to target law-abiding businesses.”

The suit stems back to a 2013 ordinance passed by city council regulating firearm sales for the four federally licensed gun dealers within Pleasant Hill, described by supporters as a preemptive move to exercise “reasonable control over a potentially dangerous product.”

The 2013 ordinance requires a police permit for dealers and restricts shops from opening up within 150 feet of a residence, 500 feet of parks, another gun store, massage parlor or adult entertainment venue or within 1,000 feet of a daycare or school.

Owners and all employees also have to pass criminal background checks and dealers must install alarm systems and surveillance cameras. Existing dealers would be grandfathered in, however, all have to submit a yearly report to the police detailing their compliance with the regulations.

“One of my primary responsibilities as a council member and mayor is the safety and welfare of the residents,” Pleasant Hill Mayor Michael Harris said of the ordinance before it was passed in Sept. 2013. “I believe that reasonable regulations affecting the sale of firearms and ammunition are an important way of protecting our residents.”

The NSSF argued, however, the ordinance was “legally flawed in many respects” and warned city council not to pass it.

“It ignored the requirements of California’s Planning and Zoning Law, it was preempted by a number of Penal and Labor Code statutes, and it violated the United States Constitution in several respects,” the association wrote in court documents.

City council passed the ordinance on Nov. 18, 2013, anyway, despite the overtures from the association.

NSSF and City Arms East filed suit in December 2013, alleging the city’s Planning Commission should have reviewed what is essentially a zoning ordinance before council passed it. In response, the commission retroactively approved the ordinance in June 2014.

The legal battle ensued through 2015 as the NSSF says the city ignored its repeated requests to correct the ordinance’s “obvious defects” until “the 11th hour and just before their opposition was due.”

In December 2015, city council lifted the distance requirements between gun stores and massage parlors, adult businesses and other dealers, according to the East Bay Times. Council also removed a prohibition against federally licensed dealers selling from their homes and allowed new gun stores to open in commercial areas so long as any part of the parcel meets the distance provisions in the original ordinance.

“After two long years of intense litigation waged by their pro bono attorneys at Keker & Van Nest LLP, Respondents finally did what Petitioners had been seeking since the Fall of 2013 – enact a Firearms Ordinance that complied with clearly defined legal standards,” the association wrote in court documents.

“It certainly was a lengthy and testy process, but it proved, once again, that the city does have the right to have local control over these types of health and safety issues,” Harris told the East Bay Times.

NSSF dropped the lawsuit in February. With Monday’s city council vote, the association says the suit is officially ended.