Take 5

Court of Appeal Overturns Lower Court Ruling in San Diego Guns Case

In a significant ruling, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, has overturned a lower court’s decision in a case involving San Diego Guns, LLC. The case stems from the tragic April 2019 shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue.

The plaintiffs in the case, who were victims of the shooting, had filed two consolidated lawsuits against San Diego Guns. They sought a peremptory writ of mandate to overturn the trial court’s ruling that had granted summary adjudication to San Diego Guns. The plaintiffs’ argument was based on the doctrine of negligence per se, asserting that San Diego Guns had violated California law by selling a rifle to the 19-year-old shooter.

The crux of the plaintiffs’ argument was that the shooter did not qualify for the then-existing exception that allowed a person under the age of 21 to be sold a rifle if that person possessed a “valid, unexpired hunting license.” The trial court had previously ruled in favor of San Diego Guns, concluding that the shooter’s hunting license was valid and unexpired at the time of the sale, despite the license stating that it was “Valid 07/01/2019 to 06/30/2020,” a period beginning more than two months after the rifle was sold.

However, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court had erred in its interpretation of the term “valid, unexpired hunting license.” The appellate court concluded that the meaning of the statute’s reference to a “valid, unexpired hunting license” was ambiguous. The court further noted that the Legislature’s subsequent enactment of section 16685 clarified that “a valid and unexpired ‘hunting license’ means a hunting license . . . for which the time period authorized for the taking of birds or mammals has commenced but not expired.”

In light of this interpretation, the Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court had erred in concluding that the shooter’s hunting license was valid for the purpose of purchasing a firearm. The appellate court thus granted the plaintiffs’ petition for writ of mandate, overturning the lower court’s ruling. This decision marks a significant development in the ongoing legal discourse surrounding gun sales and regulations.

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