So where CAN you bear arms under California's "carry killer" legislation?

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

The short answer: almost nowhere. As my colleague Ranjit Singh reported earlier today, the first challenge to SB 2, known as May v. Bonta, was filed late on Tuesday, hoping to block the bill’s many sensitive places from becoming “gun-free zones” where lawful carry is banned even before Gavin Newsom puts pen to paper and enshrines the bill into law. In their complaint, the plaintiffs contend that the legislation “turns the Bruen decision on its head, making nearly every public place in California a ‘sensitive place’ (in name only), and forbidding firearm carry even after someone has undertaken the lengthy and expensive process to be issued a concealed handgun license (“CCW permit”) under state law.”

The Second Amendment Foundation, Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners of California, California Rifle & Pistol Association, and the Liberal Gun Owners Association, along with individual plaintiffs from across the state (including popular YouTube gun vlogger Reno May), maintain that the sweeping sensitive places outlined in SB 2 will create an environment where lawful concealed carry licensees won’t be able to bear arms in the course of their daily routine without constantly running afoul of the law’s prohibitions; an act meant to punish the exercise of a fundamental civil right in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen striking down “may issue” carry regimes like California’s old standard. From the complaint:

California politicians (including Attorney General Bonta), angry at the Supreme Court for striking down the subjective “good cause” standard under which thousands were wrongly denied their constitutional rights to carry, responded in kind.

First, only a short time after the Court’s ruling, the California Department of Justice leaked the names and private confidential individual addresses of hundreds of thousands of individuals with CCW permits, including hundreds of judges and other public officials, exposing them to danger.

Then, in 2022, the legislature tried but failed to pass SB 918. While SB 918 would have changed numerous penal codes and made obtaining a permit much more difficult (in ways that are unconstitutional just as SB 2 does), its most nefarious goal was to make almost every place imaginable a “sensitive place” where carrying arms is forbidden, even with a CCW permit. The bill included a “vampire provision” which declared that all private businesses are per se “sensitive places” unless the business owners place a sign on their door stating that firearms are permitted on the premises.

The “sensitive places” in SB 2 are identical to those listed in SB 918, including the vampire provision.

As the plaintiffs point out, SB 2 leaves them with “few, if any, places they can carry arms for self-defense.” A few examples:

  • If Plaintiffs have to pick up a child from daycare, they cannot carry a weapon for self-defense and/or the defense of their child.
  • Plaintiffs are forbidden to exercise their rights where a municipality provides city-owned public parking in a downtown area or shopping center to allow for commerce to be conducted. CCW holders cannot park in those areas, notwithstanding that the CCW holder is present in that parking lot to transact business wholly unrelated to any government function or agency, e.g., to make purchases at a mall, deposit cash at a bank, etc. Under SB 2, every municipally owned parking lot is now a no-go “gun free zone” for concealed carry permit holders exercising their rights to public carry of arms. Plaintiffs may have no idea they are even violating the law if it is not clear who owns the building or parking lot they have entered
  • SB 2 makes all public transportation off-limits for carry, effectively nullifying a constitutional right when Plaintiffs (or other people with CCW permits) must rely on public transportation to conduct their daily activities, including going to and from work, grocery shopping, and other common activities. SB 2 thus creates a means-test (access to private transportation) for the exercise of a constitutionally enumerated right that shall not be infringed.
  • All major “public gatherings” are also off-limits, as are playgrounds, athletic areas and facilities, and parks, as well as the streets and sidewalks adjacent to them. Since public gatherings often involve the exercise of other constitutional rights (speech, assembly, petition, religious exercise), Plaintiffs are required to trade one constitutional right for another.
  • The public carry of arms is now forbidden even on land operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation or Department of Fish and Wildlife, except those areas that allow hunting or recreational shooting.
  • Perhaps most egregiously of all, SB 2 adds a “vampire clause” for private businesses. While some states with “shall issue” permitting systems allow private businesses to put up signs that forbid carrying arms into the business, SB 2 inverts that policy. If a business wants to welcome people with carry permits, it is compelled to put a sign on its door saying so. In the parts of California hostile to Second Amendment rights, most businesses will opt not to post such a sign (politically unpopular speech) for fear of public backlash, further ostracizing Plaintiffs.

As if that’s not enough, as the lawsuit points out “on top of all of that, SB 2 also allows local governments unfettered and open-ended discretion to create additional places where carry is forbidden, though it is difficult to imagine what is left to restrict.”

Not only will SB 2’s restrictions prevent concealed carry licensees from carrying in most publicly accessible places, the plaintiffs argue that they’ll be forced to leave their guns in their vehicles, which leaves them vulnerable to theft. Ironically, while maintaining that SB 2 is about enhancing public safety, its supporters have crafted a bill that will only expand the opportunities for criminals to illegally get their hands on a gun.

In essence, Plaintiffs are left with some streets, some sidewalks, a few parking lots, and a handful of private businesses that are willing to put up signs allowing carry (so long as those businesses are not restricted under another SB 2 provision) as places where they can exercise their rights to carry arms for selfdefense in public. Plaintiffs practically cannot carry arms for self-defense at all if they use public transportation for their daily affairs, and even those who own their own vehicles risk having to constantly leave their firearm in their car, exposing it to theft.

I confess that I’m a little surprised to see the complaint filed before Newsom officially signs SB 2 into law, which does raise some issues of “ripeness”, but even if a judge tells the plaintiffs that their lawsuit is premature it can always be refiled after the bill has been engrossed into statute. We saw something similar with the Antonyuk case in New York, where a judge first rejected the complaint because the Concealed Carry Improvement Act had yet to take effect, only to accept an amended complaint a few days later when the statute began to be enforced.

We may see a similar outcome here, but I don’t think Newsom is going to wait long to put his name on SB 2, and by the time the judge assigned to the case has a chance to weigh in the governor may very well have made SB 2’s prohibitions official. Either way, Reno v. Bonta isn’t going away, and it’s just the first of many lawsuits that will be landing in the laps of the governor and Attorney General Rob Bonta.