OC Supervisors Consider Gun Storage Law, Spark Constitutional Questions

Gun Rights

A majority of Orange County Supervisors want to require gun owning residents to keep their firemans in a lock box or disabled by a trigger lock when stored at home.

It’s sparking questions on how such a law would be enforced and if it’s constitutional.

At their Tuesday meeting, Supervisors voted 3-2 along party lines to draft and bring back a safe gun storage law proposal at the request of Democratic Supervisor Katrina Foley. 

The two Republicans on the dais, Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner and Supervisor Andrew Do, voted against the proposal.

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Foley said it’s an effort to prevent suicides, to keep kids from accessing guns at home and address loopholes in current state law.

“The ordinance would not restrict the right for a gun owner to buy or own a gun nor does it impact the ability of an owner to carry or bear these arms; rather it simply seeks to regulate safe gun storage,” she said.

If approved, the county’s law would apply to residents living in unincorporated OC, including the rural canyons – an area Wagner described as having some of the county’s most well-armed residents.

According to a memo from Foley on her request, the ordinance would allow exceptions if the gun is being carried on the body of the registered owner to or at arms-length.

Wagner said Tuesday there is no evidence that gun violence and firearm thefts are an issue in unincorporated OC and called the proposal a solution looking for a problem.

“What’s the point of the gun if it can’t be accessed? I mean, you might as well have a stapler to throw at people,” he said. “You aren’t fixing anything with that, other than you are encouraging what you don’t intend to do – the carrying of weapons.”

While there’s no set date for the proposed law to come back, OC Supervisors’ next meeting is scheduled for July 23. 

Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento pointed to the 2021 killing of Aiden Leos, a 6-year-old boy who was shot dead on the 55 freeway, for the need for this type of regulation.

“One incident of gun violence is enough to make sure that we do as much as we can to keep our residents safe,” Sarmiento said.

“The creep who killed Aiden Leos was carrying the gun on him – would not have been affected by this ordinance,” Wagner responded.

At the same meeting, Wagner and Foley successfully called on the board to authorize a $100,000 reward payment from their discretionary funds to award three people for information that led to the arrest of two suspects in Leos’ killing.

Greg Block, a law enforcement firearm instructor with over four decades of experience and over 100 instructor credentials, said in a Tuesday phone interview that state law already requires people to lock up or disable their firearms if they have children under the age 18 living in their homes. 

“I’m not sure why the county’s getting involved when it’s already dealt with by California State penal code. What’s the point of this ordinance I have to ask,” he said.

Members of Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for stronger gun laws, spoke in favor of the ordinance, stating the U.S. Surgeon General declared gun violence a public health crisis on Tuesday.

Erica Best, a volunteer with the group and Fullerton resident, said she is in favor of the law because she worries about her son.

“It’s our job as adults of conscience to take care of the kids in our community. They are far too valuable to experience preventable death or harm,” she said during Tuesday’s public comment. “Of all places, a child should feel safe in their own home.”

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Foley and Chaffee also presented a resolution recognizing June 2024 as National Gun Violence Awareness.

Is it Constitutional?

Vendors also sell goods at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The proposed law sparked a debate on whether such an ordinance violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms, with at least two supervisors questioning how the county would enforce such a law.

Leon Page, attorney for the county, said at the meeting that he doesn’t believe the ordinance conflicts with state or federal law.

“We don’t believe on its face that it would violate the constitutional right to bear arms,” he said.

Block said that the proposal does violate the constitution and that residents or gun rights groups like the NRA will most likely challenge the law if approved.

He points to a 2022 Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas on New York Rifle & Pistol Association vs Bruen, a Second Amendment case, in which the court ruled a New York law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons in public places is unconstitutional.  

“Government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” reads Thomas’ opinion on the case.

Wagner also said the proposed ordinance could lead to Second Amendment lawsuits pointing to the same Supreme Court decision.

“In the gun control arena, you must have a history and tradition … of these types of ordinances that stretch back to the founding, to the writing of the Second Amendment,” he said.

Sarmiento said when he was the mayor of Santa Ana, the city implemented a similar law and it was not an overreach.

He also said there haven’t been many legal challenges to similar laws. 

“This isn’t something that’s pulling a weapon away, or a gun away from a gun owner, it just means that it should be stored safely,” he told his colleagues.

Home Gun Storage Laws Across California

Newly elected Orange County Board of Supervisors swear in during the 2023 ceremony. Credit: JULIE LEOOPO, Voice of OC

Orange County wouldn’t be the first jurisdiction in California to take up such a law.

San Diego County, the City of Los Angeles, Oakland, Palm Springs, San Francisco, West Hollywood, San Clemente and several more cities and counties, according to Foley’s memo.

San Clemente officials narrowly voted on a similar law earlier this year brought forth by Moms Demand Action that is aimed at preventing gun thefts and keeping guns out of the hands of kids and people who mentally ill.

It came about three years after officials in the coastal city narrowly passed a resolution declaring San Clemente a “Second Amendment Freedom City.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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