A recent decision in the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals actually advances the constitutional concept of an individual right to gun ownership even as the judges upheld an Alameda County decision to ban gun shows from county property. The decision is a mixed bag, but the case shows the degree to which the U.S. Supreme Court's Heller decision last year is influencing the way other courts view the Second Amendment. That's a good thing.
Heller struck down portions of an onerous District of Columbia gun ban. It was the first time the nation's high court directly addressed the question of whether the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership rights or whether the amendment merely protected a collective right to own guns as part of a militia. Although the Supreme Court defended the ability of governments to pass restrictions on gun ownership, it found that the D.C. law "amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of 'arms' that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense."
Now enter the Nordyke vs. King case, decided by the 9th Circuit this month. At issue was a law that banned most firearms from most county property and was used to keep the proprietors of a gun show (the Nordykes) from holding a show at the county fairgrounds. The appeals court sided with the county on First Amendment and equal-protection claims. The appeals court ruled, essentially, that the county has a right to prohibit firearms on its property if it so chooses.
That's bad news for the Nordykes, but the 9th Circuit's reasoning contains a significant victory for gun-right advocates. The court unequivocally stated that individuals have the constitutional right to own firearms. Because the right to keep and bear arms was a fundamental right that predates the Constitution and is a necessary part of the nation's history and traditions, the court also found that the 14th Amendment applies this right to the states.
"So, inside this dark cloud of an opinion — which allows a local government to deny a fundamental right simply because a person happens to be in or even walk across property owned by the local government entity — is a sliver lining," said former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr. "Perhaps if we have more court decisions with such silver linings, in the not-too-distant future, citizens all across American will be able to enjoy the practical manifestation of the fundamental right recognized in the Heller decision."