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Counties won the right to ban gun shows Monday when the California Supreme Court ruled that local governments can prohibit the sale and possession of firearms on their own property. The decisions, issued in two companion cases, were the first majority rulings authored by Justice Carlos Moreno, and they drew immediate fire from the gun lobby. “There are a number of cities that would like nothing less than to prohibit firearms within their city limits,” said C.D. “Chuck” Michel, a spokesman for the California Rifle and Pistol Association and an attorney for the National Rifle Association. “Those cities will be parsing these decisions line by line to try to take a step toward that ultimate prohibition.” In both of Monday’s cases, gun enthusiasts had argued that state law regulating the sale of firearms pre-empted any gun regulations adopted by local governments. But the California Supreme Court disagreed. “The Legislature has declined to pre-empt the entire field of gun regulation, instead pre-empting portions of it, such as licensing and registration of guns and sale of imitation guns,” Moreno wrote in Great Western Shows Inc. v. County of Los Angeles, 02 C.D.O.S. 3455. “Nor has it pre-empted the field of gun show regulation, making the conduct of business at such shows subject to ‘applicable local laws.’” In Great Western Shows and its companion case, Nordyke v. King, 02 C.D.O.S. 3460, Moreno also held that county ordinances regulating gun sales and possession are valid where the county property at issue is within a sovereign incorporated city -� Pomona, Calif., in the former case and Pleasanton, Calif., in the latter. In addition, he ruled, a county doesn’t relinquish its managerial duties when it leases its property, as Los Angeles County does to the Los Angeles County Fair Association. “It cannot be doubted that the county has the continuing authority, to the extent consistent with its legitimate contractual obligations, to make decisions about how its property will be used,” Moreno wrote. “It may exercise that discretion through ordinances as well as through contractual agreements.” Justice Janice Rogers Brown dissented in both cases. In Great Western Shows, Brown argued that counties could not prohibit the sale of firearms on property located in a sovereign city and leased to an independent party. And in Nordyke, she insisted that a ban on the possession of firearms on county property conflicts with several state statutes “that expressly authorize certain persons to carry firearms without restriction as to place.” The extreme interest in both cases was evident by the dozens of amici curiae lined up on both sides. Several California cities, as well as groups such as the California Police Chiefs Association, aligned themselves with Los Angeles and Alameda counties, while the gun-show promoters were backed by the likes of the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the National Association of Arms Shows. Great Western Shows, which had operated gun and collector shows at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds for 22 years, sued after the county banned the sale of firearms on county property. County officials justified the ordinance by citing the 1,385 gunfire deaths and 2,651 gun-related hospitalizations within the county in 1997. In Nordyke, Russell and Sally Nordyke, who had promoted annual gun shows at the Alameda County Fairgrounds since 1991, sued after county officials prohibited the possession of firearms on county property. The ordinance was in response to the 879 homicides and the 1,647 hospitalizations that occurred in the county from 1990-’94, and by a 1998 Fourth of July shooting at the fairgrounds that left several fairgoers wounded. Lawrence Hafetz, the deputy Los Angeles County counsel who argued the county’s position before the high court, said Monday that the twin rulings give local governments the authority to regulate “dangerous products” on their property and “opens the door for further gun-control legislation.” Donald Kilmer Jr., the San Jose, Calif., solo practitioner who represented the Nordykes, unhappily agreed, speculating that cities and counties might now try to prohibit the sales of specific types of guns and the public carrying of firearms. “What that’s going to do for Veterans Day parades, I don’t know,” Kilmer said. Both sides agreed, however, that the litigation is far from over. Both cases had been sent over from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to resolve the state issues on pre-emption. Now that that’s been decided, the cases go back to the federal court to resolve whether the two county ordinances violate gun-show promoters’ rights to commercial free speech, equal protection and due process. “The guns themselves are still not illegal,” NRA attorney Michel, a partner in San Pedro, Calif.’s Trutanich & Michel, said Monday. “So that’s the commercial free-speech issue.” In a prepared statement, San Francisco-based Legal Community Against Violence, which filed an amicus brief in support of the counties, called Monday’s rulings a major victory for public safety. The rulings, the group said, “affirm the power of local governments to take reasonable steps to protect the public from gun-related crime and violence, and recognize the crucial role California counties play in promoting the public health and safety.”

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