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Sean D. Reyes
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AG Reyes Weighs in on California’s Illegal and Unsafe Handgun Act

Last week, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador and 22 other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Boland v Bonta. The case challenges California’s unconstitutional Unsafe Handgun Act, a 2001 law regulating handgun sales after a specific date.  

The filing in the Ninth Circuit follows a successful challenge to the existing statute in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to the law. Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote that “the Second Amendment enshrines a fundamental constitutional right for law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” adding that the Unsafe Handgun Act’s microstamping requirements force Californians “to settle for decade-old models of handguns to ensure that they remain safe inside or outside the home” and are, therefore, unconstitutional. The State of California appealed the decision. 

In their brief to the Ninth Circuit, the attorneys general encourage the judges to uphold the District Court’s decision, stating that “it faithfully applied the analysis required by New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v Bruen”—a landmark Second Amendment case from the U.S. Supreme Court. The States argue that “the Second Amendment codifies a pre-existing right that belongs to ‘the people’ and necessarily restricts state regulatory discretion,” that “the Unsafe Handgun Act is not a ‘reasonable’ public safety law—it’s a disguised handgun ban,” and that “the Unsafe Handgun Act unconstitutionally infringes the right to keep and bear arms.” 

The attorneys general argue that without a blanket ban, the government can always say there is no right to purchase a specific firearm, and people are free to exercise their arms-bearing rights by choosing a different weapon. Dkt. #11, ID 12704847, at 13. That was true in Heller, where the District of Columbia only banned handguns but allowed possession of other firearms. Heller, 554 U.S. at 629. The same is true in California, which bans all modern handguns on the market but allows possession of certain grandfathered handguns—for now. The District of Columbia raised the same argument in Heller that California raises here, and the Supreme Court’s response applies with equal force now: “‘It is no answer to say, as petitioners do, that it is permissible to ban the possession of handguns so long as the possession of other firearms (i.e., long guns) is allowed.’ Id.” 

Joining Idaho and Utah on the brief were the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. 

Read the amicus brief here.