First, let’s put in context a new law that is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. This past summer, California legislators passed Senate Bill 1327, which was inspired by similar Texas legislation on abortion.
SB 1327 would require any citizen or group suing the government on Second Amendment grounds to pay for the government’s legal fees if even one of their legal claims is dismissed. The plaintiff’s attorneys also would be on the hook.
This so-called “fee-shifting provision” would make it literally impossible to litigate a Second Amendment case. Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised concerns about SB 1327. In a letter to lawmakers, the ACLU said the bill “offends the constitutional structure of California and the United States and would set a dangerous legal precedent.” Bonta said the state would not enforce SB 1327 unless the law is upheld.
In response to SB 1327, San Diego County Gun Owners (SDCGO), a political action committee (PAC) promoting Second Amendment rights in San Diego County, agreed to become a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the fee-shifting provision.
Other plaintiffs include Gunfighter Tactical LLC, Poway Weapons & Gear, California Gun Rights Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition Inc., attorney John Dillon and the Dillon Law Group PC and attorney George Lee. The lawsuit, filed in September, is titled Miller v. Bonta (Miller II), named after attorney Jim Miller, an SDCGO member.
The good news for Second Amendment supporters is that Judge Benitez recently issued an injunction that halts the enforcement of the fee-shifting provision and an order allowing the continuation of the lawsuit challenging SB 1327.
At a hearing before Benitez, California government lawyers argued the mootness of the lawsuit. In his decision, Benitez wrote, “Does jurisdiction continue to exist in light of the Defendant Attorney General’s statement of non-enforcement? In other words, is the case now moot? No. A state actor’s voluntary cessation of unconstitutional conduct does not moot a case. More is required than voluntary cessation.”
Benitez also wrote, “The statue remains on California’s books. And the actual chilling effect on these Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights remains. Therefore, the case is not moot.
“The American court system and its forum for peacefully resolving disputes is the envy of the world. One might question the wisdom of a state law that dissuades gun owners from using the courts to peacefully resolve disagreements over the constitutionality of state laws.”
Hooray for common sense and a victory for law-abiding gun owners and Second Amendment supporters. SB 1327 has always been partisan baloney that was enacted by lawmakers who touted its unconstitutionality before putting it in place. SDCGO is thrilled with the judge’s decision that the State of California can be held accountable for the mess they initially created.
Still, the fight for Second Amendment rights is continuing. Several mid-December scheduled hearings involve challenges to California’s gun laws.
On Dec. 12, motion hearings are scheduled in four cases, including a ban on assault weapons, a restriction of ammunition purchases, a ban on high-capacity magazines and another one that outlaws batons and billy clubs.
On Dec. 16, Miller II is scheduled for a trial on the merits of the fee-shifting provision, perhaps to halt the law before it takes effect in the New Year.
Much of this legal activity challenging California’s strict gun laws is the aftermath of what happened in June of this year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck-down New York’s law requiring “good cause” to carry a concealed weapon. The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen established new criteria for evaluating attacks on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The Bruen decision was huge victory for civil rights. Since our PAC’s inception in 2015, we have made the case that carrying a firearm outside of your home for self-defense is your right. We have worked hard to make concealed carry more accessible in San Diego. In fact, our success in San Diego was used as an example to the Supreme Court and helped them make the right decision.
The right to keep and bear arms is the right of the people. It is not a second-class right. It is not only for certain people. We will continue our efforts to impact public policy and support an individual’s ability to defend his or her life as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. For more information about SDCGO, visit our website at www.sandiegocountygunowners.com.
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Michael Schwartz is the executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners, a registered political action committee (FPPC ID #1379388) and advocacy organization focused on organizing the gun industry and community and protecting the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.