Mehl v. Blanas: An Important Decision In A Now-Irrelevant Handgun Carry Case
[caption id="attachment_1506" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ninth Circuit - Pasadena Courthouse[/caption]
We at CGF are working hard to have the right to carry a firearm recognized in California through various legal actions and other efforts, not the least of which is our Second Amendment lawsuit on carry outside the home [now] entitled Richards v. Prieto. That case is particularly notable not only because it was the first of its kind, filed in 2009 (pre-McDonald v. Chicago, thanks to the Second Amendment’s incorporation [for a time] in the Ninth Circuit through an April 2009 decision in the Nordyke v. King case and, previously, 2008′s landmark victory in D.C. v. Heller), but also because it has the unique characteristic of challenging both the “good cause” and “good moral character” components of the California statutes on carry licensing and Yolo Sheriff Ed Prieto’s policy “as applied”. Alan Gura, the lead attorney on Richards, argued the case before a panel of Ninth Circuit judges on December 6, 2012, after which it was submitted for decision (which, we hope, comes soon – more on this below).
However, as some of you are aware, there are those who don’t have the full breadth of resources and capabilities to bring well-considered Second Amendment litigation. Unfortunately [for all of us], those deficits do not dissuade them from bringing their lawsuits anyway.
One such instance was the case of Mehl v. Blanas, brought by attorney Gary Gorski against a much earlier sheriff of Sacramento County (Lou Blanas). Mr. Gorski is somewhat notorious for being on the wrong end of the Dunning–Kruger effect regarding firearms litigation. (On a related note, Second Amendment scholar Dave Kopel published his email interview with Mr. Gorski here.) We’ll refrain from throwing too many stones as some people have accused us of the same from time to time; we think CGF’s totality of wins and advancements for the actual, practical ability of Californians to own firearms (and, in many jurisdictions where it was previously impossible — like Sacramento County — carry them) speak to our success. Mr. Gorski’s “gun rights claim to fame” to date has been that he effectively disarmed retired law enforcement officers of their semi-automatic rifles (like AR-15s) while otherwise losing an assault weapons case at the Ninth Circuit. Going back to the long-running and voluminous Mehl case, Mr. Gorski’s earlier lawsuit that challenged Sheriff Blanas’ carry license policies and practices in Sacramento County, we should contrast the results there against the clearly positive outcome that was secured by us in just months when CGF and our litigation partners (and individual plaintiffs) sued then-Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness and came to a mutually-acceptable settlement which changed Sacramento County from effectively “no issue” to one that is not just a virtually-shall issue jurisdiction, but one that has seen record and newsworthy growth of handgun carry licensees since (see this July 2011 CBS Sacramento report and this February 2012 ABC News 10 report, just two of many such news items on this subject).
Many have worried, perhaps justifiably, that Mr. Gorski’s continuing case against a now virtually-”shall issue” agency would block (or worse) decisions in the superior Richards v. Prieto and Peruta v. Gore cases. Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit panel in Mehl issued a non-published and non-precedential opinion dismissing Mr. Gorski’s case on standing grounds. The court found that because plaintiff Mehl didn’t file a complete application after being asked to re-apply he didn’t have standing to sue over the alleged policy issues. Of course, should Mr. Mehl apply today, he stands a very good chance of being issued his license to carry absent the Sacramento sheriff’s office finding some articulable reason to the contrary in their background check investigation.
There does remain one more case against Sacramento helmed by Mr. Gorski, a Racketeering Act/RICO lawsuit named Rothery v. Blanas centering on handgun carry license issuance. However, that case is stayed by the Court until the very end of Mehl or September 3, 2013. Additionally, it has not been fully briefed, argued, or submitted for decision — unlike Richards and Peruta. As such, we think Rothery is unlikely to affect how or when the Ninth Circuit will rule in Richards and Peruta.
We are certainly not guaranteed a positive result in Richards and Peruta but we are very encouraged that Mehl was disposed of on grounds that do not injure those critical cases or, most importantly, the precious civil rights and millions of law-abiding people they represent. As we live to watch the Seventh Circuit force handgun carry by non-prohibited people upon Illinois and anti-gun rights municipalities like Chicago, we believe that the ultimate outcome — up to, and potentially including, a United States Supreme Court decision — will respect and protect our right to keep and bear arms for self-defense outside the thresholds of our homes as the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights intended.
We now look forward to a decision from the Richards panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and whatever judicial “next steps” are required to vindicate Californians’ fundamental individual right to effective self defense in public.