A federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered the owners of a gun show business and Alameda County authorities who have banned weapons from public property to mediate their 13-year-long dispute over whether the county's policy deprives citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights.
Lawyers for Russell and Ann Sallie Nordyke argued two weeks ago before the full U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the county's 1999 ordinance banning weapons even at gun shows traditionally held at the county fairgrounds stripped them of a fundamental right and exceeded the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of reasonable restrictions on guns in the interest of public safety.
Several other legal challenges brought by gun owners in the state have been put on hold while the appeals court weighs whether the public interest judgments behind the Alameda County restrictions should be respected by the courts or subjected to more critical review because they might violate the Constitution.
Lower courts are generally encouraged to leave constitutional questions for the Supreme Court to decide. If mediation succeeds in settling the Nordykes' lawsuit against the county, the question of whether Alameda and other counties' gun-control laws intrude on the right to keep and bear arms could be delayed years longer.
At the March 19 court hearing in San Francisco, Alameda County attorney Peter Pierce said the 1999 ordinance prohibiting guns on county property had been revised to allow the type of gun shows staged by the Nordykes as long as the weapons were unloaded and "secured."
The Nordykes' attorney, Donald Kilmer, complained that the county's assertions were neither backed by amendments to the law nor protected against future reinterpretation. Kilmer said the policy on record allows only "gunless gun shows."
The 11-judge panel of the appeals court voted 10-1 to order its mediation office to meet with the parties and provide a status report on the dispute within 45 days.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski dissented, saying the parties didn't ask for mediation and gave no sign that it would be fruitful.
"We overstep our authority by forcing the parties to spend time and money engaging in a mediation charade," Kozinski said, adding that it was high time the court ruled on the matter.