Prior to a letter sent out by the California Department of Justice in 2014, holders of Curios and Relics Federal Firearm Licenses who also had a certificate of eligibility were exempt from the one handgun a month rule. That changed when the DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms issued a letter to all dealers in California that said, in effect, that C&R FFLs would not exempt holders from the one handgun a month rule with regards to modern handguns. The Calguns Foundation and Cal-FFL brought suit in 2014 challenging this as a violation of the state’s Adminstrative Procedures Act, contradicted the plain language of Sec. 27535, and ignored the legislative history of the one handgun a month law. The case sought a preliminary injunction in California Superior Court.
The trial court found that the Bureau of Firearm’s interpretation of the law was “the only legally tenable interpretation of Sec. 27535” and granted the DOJ’s motion of summary judgement. The case was appealed to the California Court of Appeal, 3rd Appellate District which today overturned the trial court.
From the court’s opinion:
On appeal, plaintiffs argue the interpretation DOJ announced in 2014 is void
because (1) it is inconsistent with section 27535 and (2) it was not adopted in compliance
with the APA. We agree with plaintiffs and address their arguments in reverse order.
Regarding their second argument, we conclude DOJ’s policy is not exempt from being
promulgated under the APA because it does not embody “the only legally tenable
interpretation” of the statute. (Gov. Code, § 11340.9, subd. (f).) Having decided that
DOJ’s 2014 interpretation of section 27535 is void for failure to comply with the APA,
we resolve any ambiguity regarding the proper construction of the statute and construe it
as allowing individuals with the designated federal license, and certificate of eligibility,
to purchase more than one handgun within 30 days regardless of the type of handgun
being purchased. In doing so, we agree with plaintiffs’ first argument as well. We
reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
SACRAMENTO, CA (February 8, 2018) – In a published decision issued today, California’s 3rd District Court of Appeal has issued an important new ruling striking down an illegal California Department of Justice (DOJ) gun control enforcement policy on multiple grounds. A copy of the Court of Appeal’s decision can be viewed at www.calgunsfoundation.org/doe.
The lawsuit, filed in 2014, was brought by two individuals after the DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms sent a letter notifying firearms dealers in the state of a new enforcement policy that prevents Californians who hold both a federal firearms license and a state Certificate of Eligibility, or “COE”, from purchasing more than one handgun in any 30-day period. After nearly two years of litigation, and in spite of both the requirements of the State’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and legal precedents on how to interpret statutes, the Sacramento Superior Court upheld the DOJ’s policy. But the Court of Appeal ultimately found that the policy was illegal, agreeing with the plaintiffs on both counts.
“This decision stands for the proposition that Attorney General Becerra and his Department of Justice are not above the law,” explained Brandon Combs, executive director for The Calguns Foundation. “They can’t simply make up the law as they go, without following the rules or having a legal basis in the statutes. The DOJ fabricated and enforced an illegal policy and we put an end to it with this case.”
Combs added that the decision is important for other issues as well, especially because it is citable as precedent. “Today’s decision is perhaps even more important because of the state’s new ammunition and assault weapon laws. Attorney General Becerra has been doing similar things in other areas of state law, and we are eager to show that, like their illegal policy here, those also must be enjoined and struck down.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Bradley Benbrook of the Sacramento-based Benbrook Law Group hailed the decision. “We are gratified that the court affirmed the important principle that the State can’t take shortcuts when it tries to regulate citizens,” commented Benbrook. “It has to follow the rules.”
Doe, et al. v. Attorney Genera Xavier Becerra, et al. was supported by two California-based civil rights advocacy organizations: The Calguns Foundation, which focuses on legal efforts to protect individuals’ gun rights, and the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, the state’s firearms industry group.
The Calguns Foundation is participating in a lawsuit challenging the DOJ’s “bullet button assault weapons” regulations on similar grounds. More information about that case can be found at http://bit.ly/cgf-holt.
While the golden age of cheap surplus weapons may be over, the Curios and Relics FFL is still valuable. The rule of the Court of Appeals today in California affirms that.