A federal appeals court in San Francisco, in a ruling that appears to resolve a 13-year legal battle, cleared the way Friday for gun shows to resume at the Alameda County fairgrounds in Pleasanton under careful restrictions.
An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a requirement that guns on display must be tethered to a table with “a sturdy cable” would be constitutional and would not violate gun show promoters’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The court dismissed a constitutional lawsuit filed in 1999 by gun show promoters Russell and Sally Nordykes to challenge an Alameda County law that limits gun possession on county property.
The Nordykes, of Glenn County, claimed the law violated their Second Amendment right by effectively preventing them from holding gun shows at the fairgrounds.
But in today’s ruling, the appeals court said the plan to secure the guns with cables does allow the promoters to hold shows and regulates sales at the shows “only minimally.”
Circuit Judge Susan Graber wrote, “Plaintiffs cannot state a viable Second Amendment claim.
“No matter how broad the scope of the Second Amendment – an issue that we leave for another day – it is clear that, as applied to plaintiffs’ gun shows and as interpreted by the county, this regulation is permissible,” Graber wrote for the court.
Therefore, the court said, the lawsuit should be dismissed.
The law was enacted by county supervisors in 1999 in response to a 1998 shooting at the annual county fair that injured eight people.
It prohibits most gun possession on county property, but allows an exception for possession by authorized participants in events, provided that the firearms are “secured to prevent unauthorized use.”
The exception was originally applied to entertainment events such as the Scottish Games. In recent filings, the county suggested that gun shows could be held because they would qualify as events, so long as the security requirement was met.
The specific suggestion of tethering guns to tables was mentioned at a hearing before the panel in March by Peter Pierce, an attorney for the county, as an example of how the requirement could be fulfilled, and was cited by the court in today’s ruling.
Both sides declared victory today.
“We won,” said Sayre Weaver, another attorney for the county.
“The ordinance allows for firearms possession at events so long as the events are conducted in accordance with the requirements. We’re pleased that this part of the case, at least, is over,” Weaver said.
Donald Kilmer, a San Jose lawyer representing the Nordykes, used a similar phrase in a statement issued through his office.
“We’re thrilled: we won,” the statement said.
“We plan on having gun shows at the Alameda County fairgrounds on the first available date,” Kilmer said.
The dismissal of the case could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for Kilmer said no decision has been made on a further appeal.
The court noted that the case has had a “long and tangled procedural history” and that Second Amendment doctrine has evolved dramatically during that time.
In two landmark decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the right to bear arms applies to individuals, as opposed to only to state-run militias, and concluded in 2010 that the right can be enforced against state and local governments.
But the high court also said in 2008 that laws “imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of firearms” could be constitutional.
Today’s ruling was the sixth opinion issued in the case by either a three-judge or an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit since 2000.
The case also took an early detour to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in 2002 that local restrictions on gun possession on county property were not preempted by state laws.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News