On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Los Angeles and Ventura counties violated the second amendment by closing gun and ammunition stores during the early months on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ruling marks a reversal from an earlier District Court decision, according to the California Globe.
During the early months of the pandemic in 2020, both counties classified gun and ammunition stores as "non-essential," which allowed these types of stores to be closed under pandemic policies in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While the closures in LA county lasted just 11 days, Ventura County's closures continued for 48 days, reportedly leading to many seeking guns outside of the county, according to the California Globe.
The largest suit filed against these counties came from the Second Amendment Foundation, the California Gun Rights Foundation, and the Firearms Policy Coalition. Their suit sued both counties as well as the Ventura County Public Health Care Agency. Additional suits were filed by County gun clubs and the NRA, as well as others.
"The closure of non-essential businesses, including firearms and ammunition retailers, reasonably fits the City's and County's stated objectives of reducing the spread of this disease," wrote US District Judge Andre Birotte Jr.
The groups appealed the case to the US Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case heard arguments last year.
In their opinion filed last week, the three-judge panel ruled that the closures of these businesses violated the second amendment, and that gun stores are not covered under non-essential business shutdown orders.
"Because buyers can obtain guns only by personally going to gun stores in California, Ventura County's 48-day closure of gun shops, ammunition shops and firing ranges wholly prevented law-abiding citizens in the County from realizing their right to keep and bear arms," the judges stated.
"The Orders therefore wholly prevented law-abiding citizens in the County from realizing their right to keep and bear arms, both by prohibiting access to acquiring any firearm and ammunition, and barring practice at firing ranges with any firearms already owned. These blanket prohibitions on access and practice clearly burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment and fail under both strict and intermediate scrutiny."
Second amendment rights groups and activists celebrated the ruling.
"The court today rightfully recognized that Los Angeles County violated Second Amendment rights when it shut down gun stores and ranges in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic," said NRA director of the Office of Litigation Counsel Michael Jean.
"This is an important decision. It ensures that California—or any state—cannot use a crisis to trample on the Constitutional rights of citizens."
"This is what happens when authoritarian governments used COVID as an excuse to attack Second Amendment rights," said Firearms Policy Coalition vice president of programs Adam Kraut in a statement.
Some legal experts have noted that the ruling could open the door to other cases of large-scale business shutdowns in the future.
"As long as it isn't overturned by the whole Appellate Court or the Supreme Court, California can't close down gun stores like this again, not even during another pandemic," Enrico Moro, a New York lawyer who has been involved in firearms cases across the country in the past, told the California Globe.
"You can write it up to protection or the need to hunt or what have you. But the bottom line is restricting weapon and ammo sales like that simply breaks the second amendment. And with more of a conservative bend in courts in recent years, especially the Supreme Court, trying to appeal this will be tough to say the least."
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