There’s a gunfight brewing in Orange County, California, that would make a great John Wayne movie.
But the plot of the movie depends on your political perspective and your view on gun control.
Here’s plot number one:
In a corrupt town run by a few rich families, a crooked sheriff hands out guns and badges to those who pay him bribes and help him intimidate the poorer townspeople.
Then the U.S. Marshall comes to town, arrests the crooked sheriff, and takes him away to jail.
The rich and powerful families who still run the town get together and appoint a new sheriff – one who they think will continue to play by their corrupt rules and continue to supply them with guns and badges.
But the new sheriff in town isn’t as crooked as they thought.
Not only won’t the new sheriff hand out guns and badges to the rich and powerful – but also demands they give their illegal guns back.
Now the new sheriff has a choice: stand up for the law or give in to the rich and powerful who still run the town and risk a gunfight with them and their henchmen on the steps of the town hall.
Here’s plot number two:
In a dangerous border town, the sheriff gives guns and badges to the few good citizens who are struggling to keep their families safe from lawlessness and rising crime.
Then the U.S. Marshall comes to town, arrests the sheriff on trumped up charges, and takes him away to jail.
The good cirizens get together and appoint a new sheriff – one who they think will continue to help them fight crime by supporting them with guns and badges.
But the new sheriff isn’t as interested in fighting crime as they thought.
Not only won’t the new sheriff hand out guns and badges to the good citizens so they can protect themselves – but also demands that the good citizens hand in the guns that they have, exposing them and their families to attack by the criminals.
The good citizens decide to fight the sheriff and stand firm for the safety of their families and their right to protect themselves. They refuse to give up their guns.
Now the new sheriff has a choice: allow the good citizens to their to keep their guns or risk a gunfight with them and their law abiding supporters on the steps of the town hall.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchins and most of the county’s liberals would probably pick plot number one as the more accurate version of what’s going on in Orange County regarding the sheriff’s decision to review and reevaluate all of the 1,024 concealed weapons permits (CCWs) issued by former sheriff (and now convicted felon) Mike Corona, revoke a substantial number of those permits, and institute a much more restrictive CCW policy in the future.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors (and especially Supervisors John Moorlach, Chris Norby, and Pat Bates), the gun-owners lobby, and most conservatives would pick plot number two.
Both sides would probably agree, however, that there’s no guarantee about who will be left standing once the shooting starts.
But whatever version of the plot you pick for The Gunfight at the OC Corral, the order of battle doesn’t favor the sheriff.
At least not in real life.
On the side of the sheriff, there is the California concealed weapons law (California Penal Code Section 12050), which gives authority to the sheriff to issue CCWs to persons who are of “good moral character,” who have completed “a course of training,” and where “good cause” exists for the issuance of a CCW license.
On the side of the Board of Supervisors are Orange County gun owners and a well-funded and highly motivated gun-owners lobby with close ties to the Republican Party.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Board of Supervisors will have the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in their arsenal.
In Heller, the Supreme Court resolved (for the moment) the great debate on whether the Second Amendment — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” — protects individual rights to own weapons or the collective rights of the states to establish militias.
Heller came down squarely favor of individual rights, holding that the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
The Supreme Court’s declaration in Heller that the right of individuals to own and carry guns is protected by the Constitution also probably means that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens”) also applies to any attempt by the states to regulate or limit that right.
And while Heller noted that gun licensing requirements and concealed weapons prohibitions had long been upheld by the lower federal courts, it significantly stopped short of stating that such requirements and prohibitions would be sustained in the future.
Two states (Alaska and Vermont) do not require a permit to carry concealed weapons, and three states (Illinois, Nebraska, and Wisconsin) prohibit concealed weapons under all circumstances and do not issue concealed carry permits. The remaining states are divided among the “shall issue” states that require the issuing of a concealed carry permit when certain conditions are met and “may issue” states – including California – that permit, but do not require, that a concealed carry permit be issued when good cause is shown.
After Heller, the constitutionality of the more restrictive state regulations of concealed weapons, including California’s, is (at the very least) in question.
Heller also raises the question whether the due process and equal protection requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment governs state and local decisions on whether to issue a particular concealed weapons permit.
If, as I would expect, the due process and equal protection requirements apply, then Sheriff Hutchins would be constitutionally required not to arbitrarily refuse to issue CCWs and to make CCW decisions on (at least) at rational basis.
No doubt lawsuits will be soon be filed in federal court raising these issues.
Orange County is gun country – but not because we hunt (I don’t think anyone’s shot a bear in Orange County in a very long time).
Orange County is gun country because it is homeowner country.
Homeowners in Orange County, or at least a great many of them, believe that they need guns, including concealed guns, to protect themselves, and that they have that right under the Constitution.
It seems that the Supreme Court agrees with them.
For both political and legal reasons, my guess is that if Sheriff Hutchins insists on turning the current stand-off into a real shooting war, she won’t be the one left standing.