Alameda County has resolved its 12-year legal battle over a ban on gun shows on government property, persuading a federal appeals court that its law is constitutional because of recent concessions that will allow gun promoters to showcase weapons within tight restrictions.
In a unanimous 11-judge ruling Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the county's ordinance, finding that it does not violate the Second Amendment. The decision was fact-specific, avoiding broader gun rights issues because gun shows are now permitted if promoters agree to provisions the court called "reasonable."
"No matter how broad the scope of the Second Amendment -- an issue we leave for another day -- it is clear that, as applied to the plaintiffs' gun shows, and as interpreted by the county, this regulation is permissible," Judge Susan Graber wrote for the court.
The ruling stems from a long-running challenge by a Glenn County couple to a 1999 ordinance that had outlawed gun shows at the Pleasanton fairgrounds. Russell and Sallie Nordyke, promoters of TS Gun Shows, have seen more restrictions on such shows across the Bay Area, including in Alameda, Marin and San Mateo counties, as they've battled for their Second Amendment rights in the 9th Circuit.
The Nordykes could not be reached for comment Friday, but their lawyer said they consider the ruling a victory and plan to apply to put on gun shows in Alameda County.
Don Kilmer, the couple's attorney, also said they will ask for damages for profits lost during the course of the lawsuit, and attorneys' fees, which could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars if a judge grants the requests.
"We win, the county blinked," he said.
Sayre Weaver, a lawyer for the county, said the county has always taken the position that the case had nothing to do with Second Amendment rights.
"This has always been a public safety regulation," she said. "They have to present their safety plan and show how they are going to comply."
The 9th Circuit case was expected to be a key legal test of the scope of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings establishing that the Second Amendment applies to state and local gun regulations. But the case turned in a different direction over the past few months, as Alameda County officials indicated that the ordinance does not necessarily amount to an outright ban on gun shows, limiting its effect on Second Amendment rights.
Specifically, county lawyers agreed that the Nordykes could hold their gun shows if, for example, weapons were tethered to tables by "a sturdy cable," allowing buyers to "physically inspect properly secured firearms."
The appeals court concluded that would not trample on the rights of gun show promoters, neutralizing the Nordykes' claims. The 9th Circuit earlier this year invited the two sides to resolve their differences when Alameda County disclosed that it would allow the shows at the fairgrounds. Santa Clara County already permits the shows.
"Should the county add new requirements or enforce the ordinance unequally, or should additional facts come to light, (the Nordykes) or others similarly situated may, of course, bring a new Second Amendment challenge," the court wrote. "But in the present case, they cannot succeed."
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.
To read the 9th U.S. Circuit Court's opinion on gun shows in Alameda County, go to www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/