Court: Gun Shows Can Be Banned

Decision Expected To Set Off Avalanche Of Ordinances

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 4/22/02 -- Counties and cities in California may ban gun shows on their fairgrounds and other government properties, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The 6-1 decision upholds the hotly contested banning of weapons at flea markets in Los Angeles and Alameda counties. The ordinances were passed there in 1999 among concerns that gun shows tarred the image of the counties and promoted violence.

The decision is expected to set off an avalanche of similar ordinances across the state. In briefs filed to the court, representatives from at least 20 cities and counties urged the justices to grant them such powers.

California's justices have never ruled on whether statewide regulation of gun sales leaves room for stronger local regulations. Until Monday, the high court has left those decisions for the lower courts to decide.

A state appeals court overturned San Francisco's 1982 ban on handgun possession, saying that cities and counties cannot write such laws. But in 1998, another appeals court upheld West Hollywood's ban on cheap handguns known as Saturday Night Specials, saying that a city could outlaw a gun that was legal in other parts of the state.

But on Monday, the justices entered the politically charged debate, ruling in two cases that local governments are free to outlaw gun shows that commonly occur on county fairgrounds.

"Alameda County has the authority to prohibit the operation of gun shows held on its property," Justice Carlos R. Moreno wrote in his first majority opinion since taking office in October.

In sharp dissent, Justice Janice Rogers Brown said that such an initiative by a local government "exceeds its regulatory authority."

The gun industry argued to the seven justices that local governments are powerless to regulate the industry because the Legislature has authorized gun shows on public property. The industry said the local laws were pre-empted by state rules.

The cases reached the high court after a federal appeals court, unsure of how to interpret California law, asked California's justices to intervene.

The decisions do not reach into whether local governments can ban gun sales on private property. The cases only involve whether the bans can occur on public government-owned property.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Great Western Shows Inc. after county supervisors approved the ordinance on a 3-2 vote in September 1999.

The measure prevents Great Western from using the county-owned Fairplex in Pomona, a venue the organization had rented four times a year for 22 years.

The county fair reportedly made about a $600,000 a year from the show, which was moved to Las Vegas in 2000. About 40,000 people attended the company's last show at the fairgrounds in 1999.

The ruling does not end the county's legal dispute with Great Western Shows, because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals referred the case back to the district court to decide on free speech and equal protection issues.

Jeff Schenkel, of Great Western Shows, predicted the company would win at the federal court level and still has plans to bring the show back to the Fairplex.

"The customers want it, the 2,000 vendors who participate in the show each year want it," he said, adding that the company held shows in Pomona for years "without a serious incident on the fairgrounds or related to the show."

There are 2,500 licensed firearms dealers in California. The same 10-day waiting period for persons to purchase weapons at a gun store applies to weapons purchased at California's gun shows. Only licensed firearm dealers can sell weapons in the state and convicted felons are banned from buying them.

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