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California Law Banning Most Firearms in Public is Set to Take Effect as the Legal Fight Continues

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Three men in separate booths wearing headphones face a wall with target practice materials.
Gun owners fire their pistols at an indoor shooting range during a qualification course to renew their carry concealed handgun permits, July 1, 2022, at the Placer Sporting Club in Roseville. A California law that bans people from carrying firearms in most public places is taking effect on New Year's Day, even as a court case continues to challenge the law. (Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press)

A California law that bans people from carrying firearms in most public places is set to take effect on New Year’s Day, even as a court case continues to challenge the law.

A U.S. district judge issued a ruling Dec. 20 to block the law from taking effect, saying it violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deprives people of their ability to defend themselves and their loved ones.

But on Saturday, a federal appeals court put a temporary hold on the district judge’s ruling. The appeals court decision allows the law to go into effect as the legal fight continues. Attorneys are scheduled to file arguments to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in January and February.

The law, signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, prohibits people from carrying concealed guns in 26 places, including public parks, playgrounds, churches, banks and zoos.

The ban applies regardless of whether the person has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. One exception is for privately owned businesses that put up signs saying people are allowed to bring guns on their premises.

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“This ruling will allow our common-sense gun laws to remain in place while we appeal the district court’s dangerous ruling,” Newsom posted to X, formerly Twitter, after the appeals court acted Saturday. “Californians overwhelmingly support efforts to ensure that places like hospitals, libraries and children’s playgrounds remain safe and free from guns.”

The California Rifle and Pistol Association sued to block the law. When U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law, he wrote that the law was “sweeping, repugnant to the Second Amendment, and openly defiant of the Supreme Court.”

Carney wrote that gun rights groups are likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional, meaning it would be permanently overturned.

“Although there might be some sensitive places where you can forbid firearms, we think [Senate Bill 2] goes way beyond what is reasonable and just tries to ban [concealed] carry everywhere,” said Kostas Moros, an attorney with Michel & Associates, P.C., a law firm representing the California Rifle and Pistol Association. “We are going to do what we can to try and get the court’s attention to at least issue a ruling, hopefully, a good ruling, putting our injunction back in place, but a ruling nonetheless.”

Alexander Frank, an attorney also with Michel & Associates, P.C., said the law is burdensome on people who want a concealed carry permit.

“The thinking behind carry rights is that you don’t get to choose when the emergency arises where you might need the firearm that you brought with you… it could happen when you walk outside to get your newspaper or when you’re at a supermarket, but you don’t get to choose,” Frank said. “Law-abiding people aren’t going to do it because they’re not going to want to risk their permit [and] risk criminal liability exposure; they’ll just not carry, and that seems to be [that] the overall purpose of the law is just to create such a headache for people that it’s truly just not worth it.”

The law overhauls California’s rules for concealed carry permits in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which set several states scrambling to react with their own laws. That decision said the constitutionality of gun laws must be assessed by whether they are “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Newsom has said he will keep pushing for stricter gun measures.

Newsom has positioned himself as a national leader on gun control while he is being increasingly eyed as a potential presidential candidate. He has called for and signed a variety of bills, including measures targeting untraceable “ghost guns,” the marketing of firearms to children and allowing people to bring lawsuits over gun violence. That legislation was patterned on a Texas anti-abortion law.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta appealed Carney’s decision. Bonta, a Democrat, said that if the district judge’s ruling to block the law were allowed to stand, it “would endanger communities by allowing guns in places where families and children gather.”

The California Pistol and Rifle Association’s president, Chuck Michel, said in a statement that under the law, gun permit holders “wouldn’t be able to drive across town without passing through a prohibited area and breaking the law.” Michel said criminals are deterred when law-abiding citizens can defend themselves.

KQED’s Katherine Monahan contributed reporting to this story.

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