Retired Officers Exempt From CA School Gun Ban

Courthouse News Service – by Matt Reynolds

LOS ANGELES (CN) — California does not violate the equal protection rights of other licensed gun owners by allowing only retired peace officers to carry guns in schools, a federal judge has ruled.

In April, 11 individuals with licenses to carry guns and several gun rights groups sued Attorney General Kamala Harris over an exemption that allows former peace officers to carry guns in schools.  

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a bill to exempt retired police officers from a law barring guns within 1,000 feet of schools. The changes to 1995’s Gun-Free School Zone Act also did away with an exemption that allowed valid license holders to bring firearms onto California college and university campuses.

Unusually, the gun owners did not focus on a violation of Second Amendment Rights. Rather, the they said it was unfair to exempt one group — retired police officers — from the Gun-Free School Zone Act but not citizens licensed to carry concealed firearms.

After they sought declaratory judgment that the law violated equal protection laws and an injunction against its enforcement, Harris moved to have the lawsuit thrown out of court and argued that the exemption is in the state’s interest.

U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell agreed in an order issued on Friday.

Noting that retired peace officers have a “unique role in our society,” the judge said that the exemption would help to protect officers who during their working lives may “interact with those who wish them harm.”

“Because of these interactions, retired peace officers have an interest in protecting themselves by carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense even after their public service has ended. This need for self-protection does not disappear simply because the retired peace officer is within 1,000 feet of a school,” O’Connell wrote in the order granting Harris’ motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Bradley Benbrook declined to comment on O’Connell’s order. But the plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit on Monday.

O’Connell made a distinction between her ruling and a Ninth Circuit decision that struck down a provision exempting peace officers from an assault weapons ban.

The Ninth Circuit case was about the “possession and use of assault weapons for personal and recreational purposes” and not the “right to carry a lawful concealed weapon for self-defense,” O’Connell said.

“There is a distinct difference between allowing access to assault weapons and allowing the carrying of otherwise lawful concealed weapons,” the judge wrote.

The gun owners also claimed that citizen gun owners are a “politically unpopular class” and that lawmakers favor retired peace officers because they have more political clout.

But O’Connell said there was nothing in the history of the gun law to suggest that the California Legislature is biased against civilian gun owners.

“Absent evidence of explicit legislative intent to cause harm to civilian gun owners, plaintiffs cannot establish a violation of the Equal Protection Clause under this theory,” O’Connell wrote.

Mass shootings on campuses, including those at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and Virginia Tech in 2007, have intensified the debate over gun regulations. Gun-rights advocates argue that firearms on campuses help protect students and teachers, while gun-control advocates say that their presence makes campuses more dangerous.

California boasts some of the toughest regulations on firearms and ammunition and does not enshrine the right to bear arms in its constitution.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court found in McDonald v. Chicago that the Second Amendment applies to all states. That gave gun-rights advocates hope that they can weaken California’s laws.

Gun buyers in the state must pass a written test before they can purchase a firearm. Gun dealers are allowed to sell only “California legal” weapons that are certified for sale in the state. A licensed gun dealer is required for private sales.

The state also bans certain assault weapons, machine guns and high-capacity magazines, and restricts automatic firearms, short-barreled shotguns and some rifles.

On July 1, Brown signed a new round of bills that expanded restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition.

Firearms Policy Foundation, the Firearms Policy Coalition, the Madison Society Foundation and the Calguns Foundation joined the gun owners in filing the lawsuit.

Harris did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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