A judge has ordered the California Department of Justice to stop delaying firearm transfers.
In 2020, the state’s DOJ expanded California’s 10-day waiting period for background checks to 30 days during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. That prompted an alliance of pro-gun groups to file suit against the state. San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Wednesday, citing state law.
“A plain reading of the statute’s language shows that the Legislature added the three specific circumstances for which the Department may delay releasing firearms when background checks are not completed,” Meyer wrote. “These specified situations do not show the Legislature intended to provide the Department authority to delay release for any reason that background checks are not completed. Had the Legislature wished to create a broader allowance for a 30-day delay whenever the DOJ determined additional time is needed, it could have done so. It did not.”
Plaintiffs, including the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), celebrated the ruling.
“We brought this case to shine a light on the DOJ’s unlawful practice, and we are pleased the court has ordered DOJ to comply with the law,” Brad Benbrook, FPC’s counsel in the litigation, said in a press release.
Benbrook framed the state’s practice as a dereliction of duty.
“Demand for firearms surged in 2020 when California citizens saw the rule of law crumbling around them,” he said. “The California DOJ announced it was too busy to process background checks within ten days, so it was going to start interpreting the law to give it 30 days.”
The California DOJ did not respond to a request for comment on the delays.
During the pandemic, several liberal areas of the country slowed or even blocked legal access to firearms or concealed-carry permits. Philadelphia stopped issuing carry permits but resumed after being sued. Boston had to pay gun-rights groups’ legal fees after it settled a federal lawsuit over allegations it intentionally delayed the processing of gun-carry permits.
While several governments attempted to limit gun transfers in the early months of the outbreak, their actions did not prevent gun ownership from spiking nationwide during the pandemic. Now, a considerably wider range of Americans own guns than before 2020.
This case about delayed transfers was far from the only one in the Golden State, where the government has an aggressive gun-control posture. FPC alone has ten active cases in the 9th Circuit that come from California and several active cases in state and local courts. California is facing a range of gun-related cases in part because of the shifting legal landscape after the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. However, Wednesday’s case stems from actions before that landmark ruling.
Meyer’s decision also comes on the heels of growing mistrust between the state and many gun owners as a result of the massive leak of gun owners’ private information by the state attorney general’s office. Attorney General Rob Bonta (D.) was the named defendant in Meyer’s ruling.