Crime & Justice

Gun-control debate takes new turn in wake of US appeals court ruling

By Guillermo Azabal

Los Angeles, Feb 17 (EFE).- A new battle line has been drawn in the United States’ gun-control debate in the wake of a controversial ruling by an appeals court, which found that two Southern California counties acted unconstitutionally by closing gun shops at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke, part of a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that ruled on the case, said Ventura County and Los Angeles County violated the Second Amendment by shutting down gun and ammunition stores in March 2020 and declaring them non-essential businesses.

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms … means nothing if the government can prohibit all persons from acquiring any firearm or ammunition,” VanDyke, an appointee of ex-President Donald Trump, wrote in his opinion.

He added that “under California’s highly regulated framework for firearms, law-abiding citizens can only obtain firearms and ammunition by arriving in-person to government-approved gun and ammunition shops.”

The ruling, which overturned a lower-court decision, won praise from guns-rights advocates.

Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in McDougall v. County of Ventura, told Efe by telephone that it marks the first time a court has ruled that a state or county acted unconstitutionally in closing gun stores.

She added that it could set a precedent.

By contrast, Giffords – an American advocacy and research organization focused on promoting gun control – said the ruling was misguided.

The decision affects a pair of counties in a state where would-be gun owners are subjected to a 10-day waiting period and there are limits on who may own a firearm.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, for his part, has stated he wants private citizens to be allowed to sue manufacturers, distributors and sellers of assault weapons.

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that catalogs every incident of gun violence in the US, says 2020 was the deadliest year for shooting-related incidents in two decades, with more than 43,000 gun deaths.

Gun stores, for their part, are well aware of the appeals court ruling but generally have no interest in speaking with reporters.

One exception is Nicolas, an employee at Ammo and Guns, one of Los Angeles County’s gun stores.

“A lot of customers felt that their rights were limited. Of course in a time where there was a lot of uncertainty and they felt unsafe, coming to a gun shop and (being allowed) to purchase firearms and ammunition was a means of them to defend themselves from crime or whatever might happen,” he said.

That sentiment is shared by the Firearms Police Coalition, a gun-rights group that was one of the plaintiffs in McDougall v. County of Ventura.

Adam Kraut, that coalition’s vice president, told Efe that the gun-shop closures were the actions of an “authoritarian government” that used Covid-19 as an excuse to attack the Second Amendment.

Asked about the danger of selling guns at a time when many experts are warning about the long-term mental-health effects of the pandemic, Omar, a high-school teacher who helps out at Ammo and Guns, downplayed the concerns.

He said customers are asked a series of questions and that the store denies them service if they seem mentally imbalanced.

Nicolas said for his part that gun control is a “losing topic.”

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