Politics

Gun groups sue over California law banning firearms sales to those under 21

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2018 file photo, students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated
Students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on the campus in February 2018. A law passed in response was challenged in court Monday.
(Mike Stocker / Associated Press)

Gun-owner groups on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging California’s new law banning the sale of firearms to people under the age of 21, arguing that those 18 and older are adults with legal rights to possess pistols and rifles.

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego by groups including the Calguns Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition, targets state laws including one that took effect in January that raised the legal age limit for buying long guns from 18 to 21. The suit also challenges a previous law barring sales of handguns to those under 21.

“Once individuals turn 18, they are adults in the eyes of the law,” said John W. Dillon, a Carlsbad attorney representing the gun groups. “Law-abiding adults are entitled to fully exercise all of their fundamental rights, including their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms for all lawful purposes, not just hunting or sport.”

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced the law on long guns last year after a 19-year-old gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school in February of that year.

“Like most Americans, I was horrified by recent events in Florida,” Portantino said when he introduced the bill. “As a father of a high school sophomore, I can’t stop thinking about the unnecessary nightmare that this tragedy caused for the affected families. I feel it is imperative that California leads when Washington refuses to act.”

On Tuesday, Portantino lashed out at the lawsuit and said the state would oppose it in court. He noted the state already sets age limits on when people can buy cigarettes and alcohol and rent cars.

“I’m outraged that some people would work so hard to put our school children in jeopardy by fighting this very sensible and appropriate law,” Portantino said in a statement. “This lawsuit is a dumb and heartless effort that needlessly puts our children at risk.”

The lawsuit, also filed on behalf of individual gun owners, argues that adults who are not convicted felons or mentally ill should have access to the full scope of the 2nd Amendment.

“The 2nd Amendment is not a second-class right, and adults over the age of 18 but under 21 are not second-class people,” said Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition.

The lawsuit was filed on the same day that another controversial gun law took effect, requiring background checks for everyone buying ammunition in California to make sure they are not convicted felons.

The state Department of Justice, which conducts the background checks, said the first day went smoothly, but an attorney for gun owners disagreed.

“On Day 1 of the new ammunition background check system the problems are worse than even we anticipated,” said Chuck Michel, whose office filed a lawsuit this year challenging the law. “The process takes about a half-hour per customer instead of the promised two minutes.”

He said some customers were turned away Monday because they lack some papers proving their residency in addition to a California-issued driver’s license.

“We are collecting and will be presenting these facts, and the related constitutional issues, to the court and asking for an injunction to block this useless infringement of law-abiding gun owners’ rights,” Michel said.

The Firearms Policy Coalition tweeted Monday that it had established a hotline for gun owners to report denial of access to ammo under the new law.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Twitter: @mcgreevy99