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Criminal Justice

What’s Next For California's Tough Gun Laws After The Supreme Court's Ruling

In the foreground, a white man wearing a blue button-down shirt and tan pants pulls back his shirt to show a black gun holster and handgun in a conference room with a white ceiling, a brown table, and 10 people obscured in the background.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a strict New York concealed carry law is likely to impact California gun laws.
(George Frey
Getty Images)
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Every morning, Greg Block leaves his house with three pieces of what he calls “safety equipment”: a fire extinguisher, a spare tire, and a concealed weapon.

“It’s for my personal safety,” said Block, a firearms instructor in Huntington Beach. “When I need a cop, I need ‘em now. I don’t need them in a four- to seven-minute response time. I carry a concealed handgun because I can’t carry a cop in my pocket.”

Like many California gun rights groups, Block cheered Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a New York state law that makes it harder to get a permit to carry a concealed gun. California has a similar law on its books — which even the state’s Democratic attorney general concedes is likely to be found unconstitutional under Thursday’s ruling.

However, California’s concealed carry law remains in effect for now — and until a legal challenge to it wends its way through the courts, Block said a concealed carry permit will still be difficult to obtain in many of the state’s urban counties.

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“I’ve gotten several phone calls today, ‘Greg, I can apply tomorrow!’ No, that’s not how it works,” Block said Thursday. “These sheriffs have to comply with California state laws.”

Justices struck down the part of New York’s law that required a person to show “good cause” for needing a concealed carry permit.

California is one of six states with a similar rule on its books. Overall, these limits mean a smaller proportion of California’s population holds a concealed carry permit than almost any other state — but it’s up to local law enforcement agencies to decide whether an applicant for a concealed firearm has proven a compelling need for the permit.

As a result, data analyses have shown that while rural counties give these permits more freely, sheriffs in California’s most populous counties issue relatively few permits — with counties like San Bernardino, Sacramento and Orange as notable exceptions. (Block also said that Los Angeles County has become somewhat more permissive since Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s election.)

'The Dam Just Broke'

The “good cause” law that causes this patchwork in California is now likely to come under immediate challenge from gun rights groups.

How quickly will these challenges come? “It depends on whether the [National Rifle Association’s] lawyers skipped lunch today,” said Jonathan Lowy, a vice president and chief counsel at Brady, the gun violence prevention organization.

During a conference call with reporters, Lowy added it would likely take time for even these legal challenges to change how concealed carry permits are actually issued.

“Interpreting the Second Amendment is not a theoretical exercise,” said Eric Tirschwell, chief litigation counsel at Everytown Law, which defends limits on guns in court and also participated in the conference call. “It has real-world, life-or-death implications. More people will be harmed by guns. More people will be intimidated. More people will be shot and killed.”

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California remains home to some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on guns and ammunition. However, gun rights groups say the court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen may have laid the legal groundwork for fresh challenges to other California gun laws.

“The key distinction is that the burden shifts to the government to prove that its law does not infringe on the Second Amendment,” reads a blog post from the California Rifle and Pistol Association, the state affiliate of the NRA.

“The dam just broke,” said Block, “and there are going to be a lot more changes because they can cite that ruling in those cases.”

State Lawmakers Plan New Restrictions Following Ruling

But other legal experts also said the new standards proposed in Bruen still leave enough room for tighter gun restrictions — and even leaves latitude for imposing regulations on concealed weapons. For example, the ruling specifically mentions that governments can bar concealed firearms in “sensitive places” like schools, government buildings, courthouses and polling places.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Democratic leaders of the state legislature say they intend to make use of this flexibility. On Thursday, they announced plans for fast-tracked legislation that would make certain areas off-limits to a concealed firearm.

The attorney general and State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) said they’re still working out the details of exactly which “sensitive places” the state would place off-limits for concealed weapons, though Bonta said the list would be longer than the court’s. He suggested that parks, amusement parks and sporting venues would likely be off-limits to concealed weapons if the forthcoming legislation passes.

The new proposal — which will be introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 918 — will honor the Bruen decision, but will also focus on tightening the “safety requirements” that concealed carry applicants must fulfill before receiving a permit. Already, applicants must complete a process that includes a firearms safety course, a background check and possibly submit to psychological evaluation.

“We have the strongest gun laws in the nation,” Bonta said. “We also have some of the safest streets in the nation — that is no accident.”

According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, California has the 7th-lowest rate of firearms mortalities. (The six states California trails all had enacted a New York-style concealed carry law.)

The proposed legislation could get a hearing as soon as Tuesday.

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