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After the highly anticipated Supreme Court ruling that struck down a century-old New York gun law, California, which has some of the most stringent gun laws in the U.S., has vowed to pursue multiple avenues to keep its residents safe, setting an example for other states.
On Thursday, California's attorney general, Rob Bonta, spoke to Yahoo News shortly after the justices ruled 6-3 in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen case that the law was unconstitutional.
“The Bruen decision is certainly a setback. … It undermines public safety. It makes communities, neighborhoods and children less safe,” Bonta said. “It makes Americans less safe.”
California is ranked first in the nation on gun safety, with a rate of gun fatalities 37% lower than the national average, according to a 2021 analysis by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The organization is led by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was herself a victim of gun violence. In 2022, Everytown for Gun Safety also ranked California as No. 1 on gun laws. Bonta attributed the state's decline in mortality rates related to gun violence to laws that “work.”
“California, in my humble opinion, is a blueprint for the types of laws that are evidence-based, data-driven, effective, save lives and make communities and neighborhoods safer,” Bonta said.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Second Amendment case, however, made a major component of California’s concealed carry law unconstitutional. The long-established New York law required gun owners to obtain licenses to carry concealed handguns in public for self-defense. License applicants had to demonstrate “proper cause,” in other words, justifying a special need for the concealed carry license because they face a "special or unique danger to their life."
In his opinion in the case, the conservative Justice Clarence Thomas argued that New York’s authority violated the Second and 14th Amendments by requiring people to show a "special need for self-protection" and by preventing “law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms."
California’s concealed carry law has similar language. Residents have to show “good cause,” defined as "sufficient evidence of potential danger to life or of great bodily harm to the applicant, his or her spouse or dependent child, which cannot be adequately dealt with by existing law enforcement resources and which danger cannot be reasonably avoided by alternative measures, and which danger would be significantly mitigated by the applicant's carrying of a concealed firearm."
California’s robust list of gun safety laws also includes a ban on assault-style weapons, ghost gun regulations, a 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases, red flag laws, age restrictions, universal background checks and mental health reporting.
“Many of those laws are not being implemented in many states throughout the country. They're not being implemented at the federal level. If they were, lives would be saved — thousands. It's undisputed,” Bonta said.
Some of those laws include the so-called red flag law, which California was one of the first states in the nation to adopt, in 2016. This law “allows law enforcement, family members, employers, coworkers and school employees to file a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) against an individual suspected of being a danger to themselves and others.” The order bans the person from possessing firearms.
But Bonta says there are even more bills heading toward the desk of California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, that he says will strengthen their gun laws. He called on elected officials across the country to act.
“There is much we can do that the Bruen decision does not touch or impact that we haven't done yet," he said. "If we had the will and if our elected leaders stepped up and got it done, we could make communities safer. We need to pursue those. We need to act, we need states to act. We need the federal government to act.”
Newsom confirmed some of California’s next moves for public safety in a statement after the Supreme Court announced its decision.
"While this reckless decision erases a commonsense gun safety law that existed for decades, California anticipated this moment," he said. "Our Administration has been working closely with the Attorney General and the legislature for months. Our state is ready with a bill that will be heard next week to update and strengthen our public-carry law and make it consistent with the Supreme Court ruling, just as Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh said states like California are free to do.”
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat who represents La Cañada Flintridge in Los Angeles County, is working with Bonta and Newsom on the amendment and passing of Senate Bill 918, which would specify the places where weapons cannot be carried and clarify qualifications for obtaining a license. Bonta adds more bills are in the works for Californians.
“There's also a bill that's being presented for the governor's signature that the governor supports. Sen. Bob Hertzberg is authoring, which is modeled after SB 8 in Texas, but used in a constitutionally appropriate way where there's a private right of action where individuals can sue gun manufacturers, distributors or sellers of high-caliber weapons, ghost guns or assault weapons, that are already illegal and rendered illegal in a constitutional way.”
Bonta emphasized that many of California’s commonsense gun laws remain untouched, despite the Bruen decision.
“While the court did strike down one component of the concealed-carry weapon scheme specifically, the proper cause or 'good cause' requirement, it also made clear that there are quite a few restrictions that are constitutionally permissible, and that states like California can use to keep communities safe,” he added.
For example, the Supreme Court ruled that a concealed-carry weapons law allows for safety assessments in granting permission to an individual seeking to have a concealed firearm, including background checks, fingerprints and firearms training. Concealed weapons can also be prohibited in certain “sensitive places” including schools, courts, legislative assemblies and government buildings.
It is also generally prohibited in California to carry an open or concealed loaded firearm in most public places. An exception is granted if an individual has been given a license by applying through local law enforcement. Individuals may also obtain permits from a sheriff or chief of police after completing a successful background check, a firearms safety course and proof of residency, employment or business in the county or a city within the county.
“I thought about the children in Uvalde and how we have not done enough to keep them and other children and other Americans in our country safe from gun violence,” said Bonta. “This is a step backwards. This is a sad day … but the fight continues, and there are many, many pathways, actionable steps that can be taken to make communities safe from gun violence that are not being done now.”