In the wake of last summer’s landmark Supreme Court decision in the Second Amendment case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday released its opinion on a case which incorporates the Heller decision into state case law.
If you didn’t know, the Heller decision affirmed that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to keep and bear arms — does indeed apply to individuals, rather than collectively in the form of an organized militia. Since an 1833 case had established that the Bill of Rights only applies to the federal government, a case at a local level was needed to incorporate the Heller decision into case law applicable to California.
This case was Nordyke v. King.
The California case of Nordyke v. King concerned the right of a local government to prohibit gun possession on its property. Russell and Sallie Nordyke organized gun shows throughout California as a business, but as a consequence of an Alameda County ordinance passed in 1999 making it a crime to possess guns or ammunition on county property, the Nordykes were unable to conduct the gun shows they had been putting on at the county fairgrounds since 1991. County Supervisor Mary King was the author of the ordinance and sought to end the gun shows, using a shooting at the county fair the previous summer to garner support as a reason for the ban. Although the court upheld the ability of the county to prohibit gun possession on county property under the “sensitive” areas provision of Heller, the court concluded that in the Ninth Circuit, which includes California, the Second Amendment is incorporated against the states — and that’s what makes it significant.
Now that the Second Amendment is applicable at the state and local level, lawsuits which previously had no standing under previous case law can commence. Just like the Heller case had affirmed that the right of an individual to possess a gun (handguns in particular) for self-defense was part of the intent of the Second Amendment, the Nordyke case now challenges laws that restrict the right to keep and bear arms in California.
In particular, two major restrictions to the Second Amendment in California may soon face challenges in court:
The first restriction is the discretion that county sheriffs have in granting concealed handgun licenses. Many sheriffs currently will not grant licenses to individuals who have met the necessary requirements because the individual does not have a ‘unique need’ for the license. This leeway granted to the sheriff in determining who receives a license and who does not can now be challenged on constitutional grounds; a case can now be brought against a county sheriff department if the sheriff rejects a license application from a qualified individual without circumstances of elevated need for self protection. The Nordyke case means that case law now favors the success of the applicant, and a ruling that prohibits such arbitrary discretion would be likely.
The second effect of Nordyke may be challenges to the statewide ban on the sale of so-called “assault weapons” and “unsafe handguns.” Many models of rifles, pistols, and shotguns are currently prohibited for sale, despite their suitability as defensive weapons. Carefully organized cases may now have the ability to overturn these restrictions on the right to self-defense.
April 20, 2009 will go down in history as the day the tide of anti-gun rights sentiment in the courts was turned in California.
Colin McKim is an environmental management and protection junior and a Mustang Daily political columnist.