Future of California gun law in doubt after Ninth Circuit hearing

Earlier today Ranjit Singh took a look at the Firearms Policy Coalition’s coverage of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in Safari Club Int’l v. Bonta, and Junior Sports Magazines Inc. v. Bonta, which did not go well for the state of California and Attorney General Rob Bonta. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we’re digging even deeper into the case and Wednesday’s oral arguments over the state’s law that ostensibly bans “marketing” firearms to minors, but in reality is a law designed to chill the First Amendment rights of Second Amendment advocates.

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Attorney Anna Barvir with Michel & Associates has been working extensively on the Junior Sports Magazine v. Bonta case, and like the FPC, she too believes Wednesday was a good day for those challenging AB 2571 in federal court. Barvir says the three-judge panel seemed to understand the First Amendment issues at stake, as well as the anti-Second Amendment ideology that led to AB 2571 being signed into law. As Barvir tells Bearing Arms, not only does AB 2571 bar gun advertisements to children, it forbids ads that are aimed at parents looking to introduce their own kids into the shooting sports.

“As someone who interacts with the gun community on a regular basis for these issues, the most offensive part [of AB 2571] is reading through the legislative history and you can see what the state was really trying to do there. It’s littered with references to ‘the problem’ of encouraging young shooters and passing down these messages. The state relied heavily in the legislative history on a report called ‘Start Them Young’ from the Violence Policy Center that just shreds my client Junior Sports Magazines as well as the NSSF and the NRA, talking about them being in cahoots to create a new generation of shooters because ‘all the old white men are gone or are dying off, so we need to put guns in the hands of babies’. I mean, that’s the rhetoric that you can see in this legislative history.”

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As Barvir notes, that smacks of viewpoint discrimination that shouldn’t withstand a First Amendment challenge, but she suspects that the Ninth Circuit panel may take greater offense to the prohibition on speech impacting lawful activities, like a mom or dad deciding which firearm would be best to teach their kids how to be safe and responsible with a firearm. I mentioned to Barvir that I taught my kids to shoot on a single-shot .22LR Crickett youth rifle and asked whether an ad for that gun that was aimed at me would violate AB 2571.

“100-percent”, she replied. “The state law gives a list of things that one might look to in order to determine if an ad is ‘reasonably attractive’ to a minor and thus in violation of the law.” That includes things like minors being featured in advertisements, even in magazines that are meant for adults, as well as products that come in sizes or colors that might be attractive to children; in essence forbidding any advertisements at all for youth shooting sports.

Attorneys for AG Rob Bonta’s office argued that banning ads or marketing of firearms that might appeal to minors is no different than banning ads for booze or tobacco products that might entice youth to pick up a pack of smokes or take a bottle from the family liquor cabinet, but Barvir says the judges appeared skeptical of that line of reasoning, and for good reason. While California has minor in possession laws forbidding minors from possessing those items, the state has (so far, anyway) not criminalized youth shooting sports, hunting with mom or dad, or even going to the range with adult family members. It’s not possible under California law for a minor to lawfully purchase or carry a firearm, but they still have at least limited legal access to using a firearm under adult supervision, and of course their adult guardians still enjoy the full flower of their First and Second Amendment rights.

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We don’t know when the Ninth Circuit panel will release its decision in Safari Club Int’l v. Bonta and Junior Sports Magazines Inc. v. Bonta, but Barvir has plenty of work to do defending the rights of California gun owners in the meantime. Barvir is the lead attorney in Duncan v. Bonta, the challenge to the state’s ban on “large capacity” magazines that’s awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, and she’s also heavily involved in two lawsuits aimed at ending the state’s prohibition on gun shows on state property. Today’s conversation was very enlightening, and I’m looking forward to welcoming Anna Barvir back to the show in the near future with updates on those cases… and hopefully some very good news to report out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding California’s crackdown on speech by Second Amendment supporters. 

 

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