A decision by the California State Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at preventing enforcement of a state gun law because compliance is presently impossible is causing some legal heads to spin, especially since the court states in its ruling that, “we accept as true all material allegations in the complaint.”
Translation: The court admits it is impossible to comply with the law, but that doesn’t matter because the law is the law. Therefore, the law stands.
The statute in question is the so-called “Unsafe Handgun Act,” adopted several years ago in Sacramento and signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The law requires microstamping of new semi-auto handguns in two places. Gun rights and industry groups argued that compliance is impossible, at least for the time being, because current microstamping technology is not reliable, they say.
But the majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, explains that “impossibility does not authorize a court to go beyond interpreting the statute and simply invalidating it altogether.”
Long story short, California is stuck with a law that can’t be obeyed, but that’s just too bad.
Writing at Legal Insurrection, William A. Jacobson observed, “This is a joke, right?” Wrong; this was no joke. It’s more like a “Catch 22.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation was one of the plaintiffs, and it issued a statement:
“It is undisputed that it is impossible to comply with the requirements of California’s microstamping law given the current state of microstamping technology. We respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision. Our lawsuit did not seek to invalidate the law in its entirety, but rather to enjoin its enforcement until such time as the technology developed to make it possible to comply with the law. As Justice Chin’s concurring opinion notes, the Court acknowledges that the application of statutes can be excused based on impossibility of performance. That is the current state of the technology and all that our lawsuit sought by way of judicial relief. The unfortunate result of today’s decision is that law abiding citizens in California exercising their Second Amendment rights will continue to be denied by the State of California the ability to purchase the newest and improved models of handguns. Since the law was certified in 2013 by then Attorney General Harris, the number of models available to purchase has already been cut roughly in half. As we predicted when the law was enacted, California is experiencing a slow motion handgun ban as fewer and fewer models are allowed to be sold in the state. California is to handguns what Cuba is to cars; only old models are available.”
That former attorney general is Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator representing California on Capitol Hill.
The court majority reasoned that the laws’ constitutionality wasn’t being challenged. Therefore, nullification on constitutional grounds was allegedly never on the table.
There is a suspicion that if the issue was something other than guns, this might have been decided differently. But the issue is guns, and until the U.S. Supreme Court fully hammers down on states for adopting laws that are impossible to comply with, gun owners are essentially stuck.
Now that President Donald Trump has an opportunity to fill another vacancy on the high court with a justice that adheres to the Constitution rather than rewrites it, this may change. The 2010 McDonald ruling in the case brought against Chicago by the Second Amendment Foundation incorporated the Second Amendment to the states via the 14th Amendment. Perhaps soon the states will be reminded of that.
But there will be automatic resistance to any new Trump nominee. That much is clear.