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Free-speech complaint seeks dismissal of Huntington Beach's effort to stop local gun ban petition

Free-speech complaint seeks dismissal of Huntington Beach's effort to stop local gun ban petition
An attorney for Daniel Horgan, pictured, filed a court motion last week saying the city of Huntington Beach is violating Horgan's free speech and right to petition by suing to stop him from circulating a proposal for a local gun ban. (File Photo)

A motion filed in Orange County Superior Court accuses the city of Huntington Beach of violating the free-speech rights of a man the city is trying to stop from circulating a petition seeking a local ban on semiautomatic and automatic guns.

Attorney Jerry Friedman filed the anti-SLAPP motion May 17 for client Daniel Horgan, a Huntington Beach resident who was trying to get the proposed ban on the city's Nov. 6 election ballot. SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation" and is considered an attempt to intimidate critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense. California is one of 28 states that have anti-SLAPP laws.

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Friedman's motion seeks dismissal of the city's request for an injunction against Horgan that City Attorney Michael Gates filed in April. Gates argued that Horgan's proposal is "unconstitutional, invalid and not entitled to a place on the ballot."

A hearing on Friedman's motion is scheduled for June 22 in Superior Court.

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A court hearing on the city's injunction request is scheduled for June 4.

Horgan's proposed law would make possession and sale of semiautomatic and automatic firearms in Huntington Beach a felony by April 1. Such weapons already in circulation would have to be surrendered to the Police Department by Jan. 1, though there would be a three-month probationary period to comply.

"These weapons are a clear and imminent danger to our community," Horgan wrote in a notice of intent to circulate the petition that he filed with the city in November.

According to city officials, Horgan's Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, which has three members, needs about 12,000 signatures from Huntington Beach registered voters by June 2 for the measure to qualify for the November ballot. As of last week, Horgan said the petition had collected 587 signatures.

Horgan now calls his petition "a little too extreme" and has said he had planned to reword it but now doesn't anticipate taking further action.

Friedman, who is running for Gates' seat in this year's election, contends the city did not face any injury while Horgan was collecting signatures.

"If there is no injury, there should be no lawsuit," Friedman said in an interview.

Friedman noted that Gates took legal action months after Horgan filed his intent to circulate the petition and that "that work was done without complaint by the city."

Gates argues the petition places the city at odds with the Constitution's Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms. He also contends the proposal isn't presented as legislation the city could adopt.

Gates said Wednesday that Friedman's motion is "going to die" once a judge views the city's actions in context with Horgan's "vague and overbroad" petition.

Asked why the city decided to take legal action although the petition wasn't close to garnering the required number of signatures, Gates said officials weren't going to leave it to chance.

"It's not until the petition was out there that it rose to a level of concern for the city," he said.

But Friedman said the city's lawsuit was "premature" and is "wasting everyone's time."

"Courts are not supposed to be used in such a way," he said.

The lawsuit has received mixed reactions from legal experts. UC Irvine law professor Richard Hasen said the city is "using a very large weapon against a weak threat," while USC law professor Michael Jenkins said "there's nothing illegal" about it and that a goal of blocking a proposal that is "clearly and unequivocally invalid" could be to avoid "wasting everyone's time and money on an unnecessary election."

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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