Gun-Rights Groups Ask Supreme Court to Review Case Against California County's Gun Store Ban

'You shouldn’t be able to zone the Second Amendment out of the Bill of Rights'

U.S. Supreme Court building / Getty Images
January 10, 2018

Lawyers for a coalition of gun-rights groups petitioned the Supreme Court on Tuesday to take up their case against a California county's ban on gun stores.

The groups accused Alameda County, Calif., of using a zoning ordinance to make it impossible for gun stores to operate inside its limits. The ordinance in question prohibits gun stores from being located anywhere within 500 feet of a residential zone. The groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation, said the rule is unconstitutional.

"You simply cannot allow local governments to ignore the Second Amendment because they don’t like how the Supreme Court has ruled on the amendment twice in the past 10 years," Alan Gottlieb, the SAF founder, said. "You shouldn’t be able to zone the Second Amendment out of the Bill of Rights."

The suit has already been heard by the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs won in front of a three-judge panel but lost when the case was heard before the full court. They are now hoping the Supreme Court will take up the case they believe is key to ensuring Second Amendment protections are recognized when applied to selling firearms.

Calguns Foundation, a California-based gun-advocacy group involved in the lawsuit, said other localities are also using zoning laws to ban gun stores.

"Since this case was filed, multiple local city and county governments have used unconstitutional zoning laws to stop new gun stores from opening and close down existing gun stores," Gene Hoffman, chairman of the Calguns Foundation, said. "If this was a book store or an abortion clinic, the Ninth Circuit would not have hesitated in striking this zoning regulation unanimously."

The Supreme Court has been reluctant to take on gun cases in recent years after setting major precedents on individual gun rights in Heller and McDonald. The reluctance has led Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch to publicly rebuke the Court's priorities. When the Court refused to hear a challenge to California's strict gun-carry law, the two justices issued a dissent decrying a "distressing trend."

"The Court's decision to deny certiorari in this case reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right," Thomas said in the dissent. "The Court has not heard argument in a Second Amendment case in over seven years—since March 2, 2010, in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742. Since that time, we have heard argument in, for example, roughly 35 cases where the question presented turned on the meaning of the First Amendment and 25 cases that turned on the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."

The California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, another of the plaintiffs in the case, is hoping the Court will break its recent trend to send a message to lower courts he thinks have been flaunting their precedents.

"The Supreme Court declared that the Second Amendment was not a second-class right, but lower courts are ignoring that and holding otherwise—and so far, they’ve been getting away with it," Brandon Combs, executive vice president of the organization, said. "We hope this case gets individual liberty back on track."

The three gun-rights organizations are joined in the suit by local businessmen who want to open gun stores in the county and are represented by attorneys Don Kilmer and Alan Gura.