An Anti’s View of the Court Battle Over SB2 in Cali

by Tommy Grant

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Last month, in Carralero v. Bonta, a federal judge in Orange County declared it unconstitutional to prohibit guns in a host of places California had designated gun-free. Those spaces include not just quintessentially sensitive places like banks, playgrounds, and hospitals, but also the parking lots of schools and government buildings, even particularly sensitive ones like police stations, prisons, and primary and secondary schools. Perhaps most shockingly, the court ruled that the Second Amendment does not even permit the state to ban guns in the parking lots of facilities storing nuclear weapons. Yes, nuclear weapons.

The Carralero decision takes a sledgehammer to SB2, the California law enacted in response to the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision striking down restrictive handgun licensing laws. And it further underlines how dangerously chaotic the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment jurisprudence has become.

Last year, gun owners and advocacy organizations sued to stop SB2 from going into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. The plaintiffs challenged the restrictions in more than a dozen places, like hospitals, public transit, playgrounds, parks, stadiums, theaters, zoos, libraries, museums, and banks. The Carralero court agreed with them in every single instance. Using the new method the Supreme Court laid out for Second Amendment challenges—which requires a contemporary law to find support in America’s “historical tradition of firearms regulation”—the judge found no relevant historical analogs. …

But that’s not all. The decision also invalidated the parking lot restrictions for all of the locations in California law, even for places that no one disputed were correctly classified as sensitive. In other words, even in those places where the challengers acknowledged that guns could be banned—like in jails, airports, and courthouses—California now cannot keep guns out of the parking lots adjacent to those spaces. To reach that conclusion, the court resorted to a hypertextualist reading of the Supreme Court’s case law. Those cases, wrote the court, “describe sensitive places where carry may be prohibited using the preposition ‘in,’ not ‘near’ or ‘around.’ ” With just four total sentences of analysis, the court concluded that “SB2’s designation of parking areas as sensitive places is inconsistent with the Second Amendment.” …

In comparing the Carralero case with other recent decisions, one striking feature of the opinion is its black-and-white quality. There are no gray areas, close questions, or hard calls here. The challengers win on every claim they make, something I’m hard-pressed to recall happening in any other wide-ranging challenge to gun laws post-Bruen, despite reading hundreds of these decisions. The court dispenses with all of the challenges to California’s law in a lean 43 pages, dwarfing the tome-length 261 pages it took the 2nd Circuit to review similar restrictions, or the 184 pages a New York federal district court took to assess that state’s post-Bruen sensitive-place law. Despite its brevity, the decision’s black-and-white character bleeds through to its dystopian, American carnage–like view of contemporary society, which conjures images of bad guys lurking on every corner. The opinion begins darkly: “We live in dangerous times.” It ends, if anything, even more bleakly: “SB2 requires that law-abiding citizens open themselves up for slaughter at the hands of people flaunting the law and creates numerous areas ripe for mass murder by ensuring there is no one there to protect people before ‘the intervention of society in his behalf.’ ”

The irony here is that the great weight of empirical evidence suggests that the proliferation of guns in public places makes them less safe, not more. So, in an important sense, the ruling creates its own reality. If it stands, we will indeed live in more dangerous times. …

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has already put it on hold and will probably reverse the decision as to at least some, if not all, of the locations. But Bruen’s demand that courts blind themselves to the contemporary costs of gun proliferation in the name of fealty to the past is a problem the appeals court cannot remedy. Only the Supreme Court can correct that flaw. For the sake of the country, it should take the earliest opportunity to do so.

— Jacob D. Charles in The Federal Judicial Ruling That Would Put Guns on California Playgrounds

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