SACRAMENTO, CA (September 24, 2018) — Attorneys for seven California gun owners and five advocacy organizations announced a new court filing in a now-federal constitutional rights lawsuit over the State of California’s “assault weapon” registration debacle. The case, Sharp, et al. v. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, et al., was originally filed in the County of Shasta Superior Court. But in late August it was removed to federal district court in Sacramento at the request of Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the DOJ defendants. The new court filing is online at https://www.firearmspolicy.org/sharp.
On August 24, the California Attorney General moved the case to federal court on the basis that the plaintiffs’ claims present a federal constitutional question, in addition to their state-based claims. That same day, the lawsuit was assigned to District Court Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. Two years ago, Judge England issued a bench ruling to enjoin a California statute that criminalized the use of Assembly video footage in political advertisements in a case brought by Firearms Policy Coalition and its Proposition 63 ballot initiative political committee, FPC Second Amendment Defense Committee.
“While it’s interesting that Attorney General Becerra doesn’t want his own state’s courts to hear how badly he mis-administered the mandated firearm registration program, we welcome the opportunity to show Judge England how the DOJ violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs and others like them,” said George M. Lee, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “General Becerra’s actions and failures affected many gun owners from San Diego to Eureka. These law-abiding gun owners tried to register their weapons as required by law but could not do so because DOJ’s registration system was wholly inadequate to do the job. We are simply asking that those injuries be reasonably remedied so that those citizens are not subject to criminal liability for possessing illegal, unregistered weapons – solely as a result of DOJ’s failures.”
In the latest complaint, submitted last Friday, the plaintiffs added a claim for deprivation of their due process rights under Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code. The complaint also adds as an institutional plaintiff the Madison Society Foundation, a nonprofit organization that fights to protect the right to keep and bear arms.
The plaintiffs say that Becerra and the DOJ had a legal and constitutional duty to provide a functional registration system during the registration period, but that they were unable to exercise their own rights and legal duties “due to the Defendants’ actions and failures, including but not limited to the inaccessibility, defects, and/or non-functionality of the DOJ’s CFARS-based registration system.” The plaintiffs alleged that the DOJ’s ‘botched’ “assault weapon” registration scheme – including the error-prone Internet application for registration that often crashed completely – violated both the U.S. Constitution and California Constitution’s guarantees of due process. They also allege that the failed DOJ system violated the plaintiffs’ and other similar gun owners’ statutory rights.
“Even though the lawsuit is now in a federal district court, it’s still just a straight-forward case about how Attorney General Becerra and his DOJ didn’t do the job they were mandated to do,” explained Firearms Policy Coalition President Brandon Combs. “Their actions and failures violated the rights of thousands of California gun owners. It’s just that simple.”
Under California’s voluminous gun control laws, someone merely transporting an unregistered “assault weapon” to the shooting range – even if one believes it was legal and registered under other DOJ systems, like DROS – “is guilty of a felony” and potentially subject to a prison sentence of “four, six, or eight years.” Other crimes can be added on to that, including common separate charges like possession and manufacturing.
The complaint says the plaintiffs “seek an un-extraordinary result, compelled by the basic tenets of due process: That they simply be allowed to register their eligible firearms and comply with the law, and that the Attorney General, the DOJ, and their officers and agents similarly comply with the law by allowing such registrations and ensuring they are properly and timely processed through a functioning online database as they have been required by statute to do.”
“This unjust California government-created problem must be stopped immediately,” Second Amendment Foundation Founder and Executive Vice President, Alan Gottlieb, said in a previous statement. “Gun owners should not be put at risk due to state regulatory incompetence.”
The plaintiffs said that they would soon be asking Judge England for a preliminary injunction to protect affected gun owners’ rights and property while the case goes forward to summary judgement or trial.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys George M. Lee and Douglas Applegate of San Francisco-based Seiler Epstein Ziegler & Applegate LLP, as well as Raymond M. DiGuiseppe, a former California deputy attorney general and prosecutor. Attorneys Bradley Benbrook and Stephen Duvernay of the Sacramento-based Benbrook Law Group, who earlier this month secured a major First Amendment victory in a case that challenged a different California gun control statute that banned truthful, non-misleading speech about handguns, have been added to the legal team.
The lawsuit is backed by The Calguns Foundation (CGF), Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF), and Madison Society Foundation (MSF), also institutional plaintiffs in the case.
Californians who tried to register their firearms as “assault weapons” before July 1 but were unable to, or who suffered a privacy breach at DOJ, should contact the organizations’ Legal Action Hotline immediately at https://www.firearmspolicy.org/hotline or by telephone at 855-252-4510.