The Right to Bear Arms

United States District Court Rules COVID-19 Does Not Place a Substantial Burden on Gun Store

McDougall v. Cty. of Ventura California, No. 20CV02927CBMASX, 2020 WL 2078246 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2020).

Written By: Logan Tower

The Second Amendment prohibits the government from unlawfully infringing upon an individual citizen’s right to bear arms. The Amendment applies directly to the federal government and indirectly, through the Fourteenth Amendment, to state and local governments. In this case, the plaintiff contended that his Second Amendment rights were violated by a stay-at-home order that delayed his ability to retrieve a handgun that was purchased prior to the order becoming effective.

The defendant, County of Ventura, California, (hereinafter known as the “County”) issued a “Stay Well At Home” order on March 30, 2020. The order required all businesses not considered “essential” to temporarily close. California defined “essential” businesses as hospitals and other health care facilities, grocery stores and other food providers, financial institutions, and transportation amenities, but not gun stores. The County order was intended to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order was effective until April 19, 2020, unless otherwise retracted or extended by the County.

The plaintiff, Donald McDougall purchased a handgun on March 9, 2020. Under California law, a buyer must wait at least ten days after purchasing a firearm so a background check can be conducted. However, delays are common and background checks may take longer than ten days. Once the buyer receives notice of a passing background check, he must pick up the gun within thirty days. Since the order closed all gun stores within the County, no background checks were able to be processed from March 30, 2020 through April 19, 2020. As a result, the plaintiff was delayed from picking up his handgun until after April 19, 2020. Consequently, the plaintiff filed an ex parte motion (a motion that excludes the other party) to temporarily restrain the defendant from closing all gun stores across the County.

The plaintiff argued that the government burdened his Second Amendment right as a result of the closing of all the gun stores within the County because it left him with no available alternative to obtain a firearm. The plaintiff also contended that strict scrutiny should be applied when analyzing the County order.

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument and instead ruled that intermediate scrutiny should be used for analyzing the plaintiff’s Second Amendment claim case. Intermediate scrutiny requires that a law be substantially related to furthering an important governmental interest. The Court held that intermediate scrutiny was appropriate because the “Stay Well At Home” order was not a complete ban on all firearms, just a temporary restriction during the global pandemic.

Applying this intermediate scrutiny standard, the Court ultimately held that the plaintiff was unable to meet his burden of showing that he was likely to succeed on the merits in a future trial. To reach this conclusion, the Court relied on the landmark Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in which the Supreme Court ruled that individual constitutional rights may be restrained to protect the public from grave dangers to health and safety so long as the restraints are not considered “unreasonable,” “arbitrary,” or “oppressive”. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 29 (1905). The Court concluded that the County order was likely justified under the Jacobson standard.

Thus, the Court denied the plaintiff’s motion for an injunction and the gun stores remained closed under the defendant’s orders.