Trellis Blog - Legal Analytics

Gun Control: Can Change Really Happen?

Mar 12, 2019 6:34:06 AM / by Jennifer

Image of a hand gun being fired

Preventable shootings have unacceptably become an all-too-familiar part of our media cycle. We’re all pretty well fed up with moments of silence and nothing more by way of change. Countless students around the country have made it clear that they are too.

Which is why we were thrilled to see gun control legislation back in the news and in a big way. At the end of February, a Democrat-led House passed a new gun control bill that promises sweeping change. The bill, which would require a universal background check, passed 240-190.

Unfortunately, the bill isn’t totally in the clear. Passing the bill through a currently Republican-controlled Senate will be a challenge. The POTUS himself has stated outright that he would veto the bill should it make it to his desk.

If that’s the state of things with the President and the legislatures, what about the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS)? Historically, SCOTUS has tended to refuse to hear gun control cases. They’ve preferred to leave it up to the states to decide where they stand, and for the gun control debate to play out in the legislatures and lower courts.

For example, back in November 2018, SCOTUS refused to hear Rothery v. Sacramento, a case that would have challenged concealed carry laws in California. In February 2018, SCOTUS dismissed a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for new gun purchases.

Conservatives are hopeful that with the new conservative majority, SCOTUS will begin to take up more gun control cases and broaden the scope of the Second Amendment. If SCOTUS took up cases like Rothery v. Sacramento, gun control laws in California would have very different outcomes.

California and Gun Control

Given SCOTUS’ historical silence on gun control, one might expect a fairly predictable and clear-cut outcome in gun control in California, known for having some of the strictest gun control laws in the U.S. However, this hasn’t played out as predictably as one might think, and the interplay between the courts and the law has played out in complex ways.

For example, back in November 2005 San Francisco voters enacted Proposition H, which banned the manufacture, sale, transfer, or distribution of firearms or ammunition in San Francisco. It also banned the possession of handguns by San Francisco residents within the city.

While this was a major change in gun control legislation, the San Francisco County Superior Court struck the ban down in 2006. This decision was upheld in 2008 by a California appellate court. For all that conservatives may howl that California is “anti-gun” and “anti-Second Amendment,” the California judicial system doesn’t exactly welcome all gun control legislation with open arms.

How might a conservative SCOTUS impact current or recent California cases? We took a look on Trellis and found King v. Dukes, an interesting California case in which a 17-year-old boy died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, from a gun found in his own home.

In the analysis, the judge discussed various scenarios where the boy’s parents could or could not be found negligent for the boy’s death. The major unanswered question of the case was: Were the parents the owners of the gun? If they were, the judge noted that they could and should be found negligent, knowing that the boy had psychological problems and should not be trusted in the house alone with firearms.

Gun control legislation, like the universal background check bill passed recently by the House, often aims to reduce the likelihood that someone with a history of mental illness would possess a firearm. With a conservative SCOTUS, however, would something like the mental status of other inhabitants in the house even matter?

We’ll be watching to see how the House bill fares in the Senate, and what SCOTUS takes up in the next few months around gun control. In the meantime, take a look at the cases on Trellis to see for yourself how California’s judges have ruled on this issue.

Written by Jennifer

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