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Judge declines to shoot down California’s restrictions on openly carrying guns in public

The plaintiffs have argued that their right to carry handguns openly in public is "God-bewstowed." A federal judge disagreed and said they could still defend themselves with concealed carry guns.

(CN) — A federal judge on Thursday denied a request by two men to block California's restrictions on openly carrying firearms in public.

If that sounds familiar, that's because the same federal judge made the same ruling in 2020. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2021 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the high court struck down a New York law which severely restricted the right to carry handguns in public, the plaintiffs were allowed to re-file an amended version of their federal lawsuit.

Carrying a firearm openly (meaning that everyone can see you have one) in California is mostly illegal, with a number of exceptions, including for sworn police officers. Counties with populations of under 200,000 may also issue permits for open-carry, as all jurisdictions in the state do for concealed-carry (say, in ones jacket or in their car).

Two men — Mark Baird of Siskiyou County and Richard Gallardo of Shasta County (both of which have populations of less than 200,000) — have been trying for years to get the court to block the restrictions on openly carrying guns. In their suit, first filed in 2019, they say they haven't even been allowed to apply for an open carry permit because they have not been able to show “good cause” to do so, as the law requires. They say that clause amounts to a "de facto ban."

"They contend the Second Amendment countenances no limitations on their right to carry handguns openly in public, and they claim the Second Amendment precludes California’s scheme of prohibitions, exceptions, and licenses for carrying handguns openly in public," U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller wrote in her 16-page opinion, neatly summarizing the plaintiffs' arguments. "They describe their right to carry loaded handguns openly in public as 'God-bestowed,' as a right they can exercise without 'permission from the government, licensing, registration, or any other action.'”

The judge found that the plaintiffs had failed to make the case that a preliminary injunction was necessary.

"Baird and Gallardo will not be without a means to defend themselves with handguns in public while the case is pending," the judge wrote. "They and others in California may carry concealed handguns in public."

Mueller went on to cite the Supreme Court ruling, which stated that nothing “should be interpreted to suggest the unconstitutionality of the 43 States’ ‘shall-issue’ licensing regimes," which describes California's regulatory framework around carrying guns in public. Her ruling also cited a declaration filed by a former police chief who wrote, “restrictions on the open carry of firearms greatly enhance public safety.”

She also dismissed part of the complaint, after finding that Baird and Gallardo had "brought this case against the wrong defendant," which is to say that they should have sued their local sheriffs and not the state Attorney General Rob Bonta because they have no standing to speak to gun owners in larger jurisdictions.

Finally, Mueller proposed the court appoint its own expert witness to "collect and survey evidence of the 'historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms,'” she wrote, quoting from the Supreme Court's Bruen decision.

For now, the lawsuit remains pending. Attorneys from both parties did not respond immediately to emails requesting a comment.

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