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City of Morgan Hill and Giffords Law Center Secure Victory for Local Gun Safety Law, Defeating NRA Challenge

August 4, 2020 — A superior court judge ruled yesterday in favor of the City of Morgan Hill in a lawsuit challenging a local ordinance requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms. The case was brought by the NRA’s California state affiliate, the California Rifle & Pistol Association, which sought to invalidate Morgan Hill’s reporting law because it is stronger than state law. Giffords Law Center represented the city in the lawsuit with co-counsel Roderick Thompson and James Allison of Farella Braun + Martel.

“California’s gun violence prevention laws allow communities to pass stronger local firearm laws—and they have a constitutional right to do so,” said Hannah Shearer, Giffords Law Center Litigation Director. “Morgan Hill’s gun-theft-reporting ordinance is stronger than state law but does not conflict with it. We applaud the Court’s decision recognizing that cities and the state of California can work in synergy to combat the gun violence crisis.”

“Our community was able to make progress toward saving lives because of citizens moved to action by the repeated tragedies of our nation’s gun violence epidemic. We are pleased that the court recognized and approved our city’s efforts, and rejected this attempt by California’s NRA affiliate to obscure the clear benefits of the ordinance at the expense of the safety of the people of Morgan Hill,” said Donald Larkin, City Attorney for Morgan Hill.

Morgan Hill’s ordinance, Municipal Code 9.04.030, addresses gun owners’ responsibility to report lost or stolen firearms and requires reporting within 48 hours, a strengthening of state law’s reporting requirement of 5 days. Firearm theft is a serious problem in the United States that can fuel gun violence and gun trafficking. A gun is stolen from an individual owner roughly every two minutes. An analysis of tens of thousands of stolen guns recovered by police from 2010 to 2016 found that the majority of weapons were recovered only after being used in a crime. Stronger reporting laws could have prevented some of these crimes. The decision released yesterday will help the City of Morgan Hill stop crime before it occurs, rather than addressing it after the fact.

The NRA’s rejected legal theory claimed that Morgan Hill’s theft-reporting ordinance was preempted by state law. Unlike 43 other states, where the gun industry has lobbied for expansive firearm preemption laws, California does not have a state law broadly restricting local gun safety laws. As a result, California’s cities are allowed to pass their own firearm laws, including laws that bolster state standards, unless the legislature has intended to remove this authority.


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