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Federal appeals court upholds California law banning gun shows at county fairs

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld California’s ban on gun shows at county fairs and other public properties, deciding the laws do not violate the rights of firearm sellers or buyers.

The 3-0 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a federal judge’s ruling in October that blocked the laws.

The two measures were both written by Democratic state Sen. Dave Min. The first, which went into effect in January 2022, barred gun shows at the Orange County Fair, and the other, which took effect last year, extended the ban to county fairgrounds on state-owned land.

In his decision last fall, U.S. District Judge Mark Holcomb wrote that the state was violating the rights of sellers and would-be buyers by prohibiting transactions for firearms that can be bought at any gun shop. He said lawful gun sales involve commercial speech protected by the First Amendment.

But the appeals court decided the laws prohibit only sales agreements on public property — not discussions, advertisements or other speech about firearms. The bans “do not directly or inevitably restrict any expressive activity,” Judge Richard Clifton wrote in Tuesday’s ruling.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who defended the laws in court, hailed the decision.

“Guns should not be sold on property owned by the state, it is that simple,” Bonta said in a statement. “This is another victory in the battle against gun violence in our state and country.”

Gun shows attract thousands of prospective buyers to local fairgrounds. Under a separate state law, not challenged in the case, actual purchase of a firearm at a gun show is completed at a licensed gun store after a 10-day waiting period and a background check, Clifton noted.

Gun-control groups have maintained the shows pose dangers, making the weapons attractive to children and enabling “straw purchases” for people ineligible to possess firearms.

The suit was filed by a gun show company, B&L Productions, which also argued that the ban on fairgrounds sales violated the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The appeals court disagreed, noting that there were six licensed firearms dealers in the same ZIP code as the Orange County Fairgrounds, the subject of Min’s 2022 law.

Min said the restoration of the laws will make Californians safer.

“I hope that in my lifetime, we will return to being a society where people’s lives are valued more than guns, and where gun violence incidents are rare and shocking rather than commonplace as they are today,” Min said in a statement Tuesday.

The ruling will be appealed, said attorney Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

“CRPA will continue to protect the despised gun culture and fight back against an overreaching government that seeks to limit disfavored fundamental rights and discriminate against certain groups of people on state property,” Michel said in a statement provided to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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