California city sued over stricter gun theft reporting law

May 22, 2019


Matthew Hoy

California voters approved Prop. 63 in 2016. The proposition, backed by then-gubernatorial hopeful Gavin Newsom, introduced a plethora of new firearms restrictions, including requiring the report of the theft or loss of a firearm within five days. Morgan Hill's city council thought that five days was too many, and passed an ordinance setting the law for their city at two days.

Earlier this week, the California Rifle and Pistol Association filed suit against the city, alleging that the stricter requirement runs afoul of the state's preemption doctrine.

“The legal preemption doctrine bans local laws that duplicate or conflict with state laws because these confuse the public,” reads a statement from CRPA about the lawsuit. “In this case, the conflicting requirements place innocent gun owners at risk of criminal prosecution for unwitting and accidental local ordinance violations that do not violate the state law.”

The plaintiffs want the court to declare that the theft reporting portion of the Morgan Hill ordinance is preempted by state law and thus invalid. They are also asking the court to order the city to strike the theft reporting provision from the city’s municipal code.

Morgan Hill City Attorney Don Larkin defended the city ordnance, but failed to explain how it doesn't violate existing law.

“Lost and stolen firearms don’t end up in someone else’s gun safe, they end up on the black market,” Larkin said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to promptly report this crime so that law enforcement can investigate quickly and stop people with bad intentions before they use a stolen firearm to cause harm.”

Larkin added that the CRPA lawsuit “seeks to obscure the clear benefits of the ordinance at the expense of the people of Morgan Hill who are trying to make their community a better place.” The city attorney’s statement concluded, “We look forward to persuading the court to reject the gun lobby’s meritless claim.”

This isn't the first time

While Larkin insists the CRPA's claim is "meritless," an identical claim made last year against the city of Palm Springs had an opposite effect.

The CRPA’s statement on the Morgan Hill lawsuit contends that the City of Palm Springs was compelled to eliminate a similar 48-hour theft reporting requirement after that city received a “pre-litigation demand letter” from the NRA chapter. According to a November 2018 story in the Palm Springs Desert Sun, the Palm Springs council voted 3-2 to repeal their 48-hour provision that the council originally approved in 2016. The repeal decision was directly related to the demand letter from the NRA, the Desert Sun reported.

Pursuing this lawsuit will only cost Morgan Hill taxpayers money that could certainly be spent more productively elsewhere.

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