Following national trend, Palo Alto looks to establish gun-free zones | March 3, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 3, 2023

Following national trend, Palo Alto looks to establish gun-free zones

City Council to consider local response to Supreme Court ruling that loosened rules on concealed firearms

by Gennady Sheyner

Responding to a recent Supreme Court ruling that loosened restrictions on concealed firearms, Palo Alto is preparing to join a growing movement of cities and states looking to designate certain types of spaces as gun-free zones.

The City Council on Monday could follow the lead of Mountain View and Sunnyvale in adopting a list of "sensitive places" where firearms would be banned. While the list will initially include schools, government buildings and polling places, it could later be expanded to include other locations such as playgrounds, health care facilities and homeless shelters.

The scope of the prohibition will ultimately depend on a legal landscape that has been shifting since June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The ruling struck down the state of New York's "proper cause" requirement for carrying concealed firearms, which required applicants for conceal and carry permits to demonstrate "a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community."

In the 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court's conservative majority concluded that the requirement for "proper cause" violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it prevents "law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense."

The effects rippled over to California, which has a "good cause" requirement for permits for concealed firearms. Days after the Supreme Court ruling, Attorney General Rob Bonta advised all law enforcement agencies in California that the New York decision makes the "good cause" requirement for carrying concealed weapons in most public places unconstitutional.

"Permitting agencies may no longer require a demonstration of 'good cause' in order to obtain a concealed carry permit," Bonta wrote in his advisory.

The Supreme Court ruling did, however, carve out an exception for "sensitive places" like government buildings, schools and polling places where a ban on firearms is backed by prior rulings and is thus legal. Now, in response to the ruling, various cities and states are testing the boundaries of "sensitive places" by adopting new prohibitions on where concealed firearms can be carried.

New York's new state law, which includes places of worship and public transit in its list of gun-free spaces, is now going through a legal challenge in a federal appeals court after a lower court found that some of its provisions go too far.

And in early February, state Sen. Anthony Portantino introduced Senate Bill 2, which adds a slew of new restrictions on firearms and identifies places where guns cannot be carried. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Bonta issued a statement with Portantino on Feb. 1 endorsing the bill, which includes parks, playgrounds, places of worship, stadiums and libraries on its list of gun-free places.

"When a gun is placed in the wrong hands, it is deadly," Bonta said in the statement. "The Second Amendment is not a regulatory straightjacket — we must protect our communities. The time for thoughts and prayers has long passed; we need brave and immediate action by our leaders — here in California and beyond."

Cities are also taking action, with Sunnyvale approving in December a list of "sensitive places" where guns are banned, which includes public transit and places of worship. And the Mountain View City Council directed its staff last October to explore a wide range of new gun restrictions, including designation of locations where guns are prohibited and restriction on firearm sales near schools, parks and daycare centers.

The city had already passed in 2021 a restriction on guns on city properties. During its October discussion, Mountain View council members all said they would support stronger gun restrictions and alluded to recent mass shootings, including the May 2021 shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority railyard in San Jose, where a VTA employee killed nine people before killing himself.

"I'm fed up with inaction and I think we need to do everything in our power to be protective of our community members," Council member Sally Lieber said at the meeting.

Whether or not these new restrictions will actually stick remains to be seen. The city of Glendale is now facing a lawsuit over its ban on firearms on city property and SB 2, if approved by the Legislature, is also expected to face a legal challenge, according to a report from Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada.

Given the legal uncertainties, Palo Alto is taking a cautious approach with its proposed ordinance. Unlike Sunnyvale, which has taken a more expansive approach, Palo Alto is preparing to limit its gun prohibition to schools, government buildings and polling places-- areas that already enjoy broad legal protection under federal law.

In his report, Shikada wrote that a uniform statewide rule "would make it easier for the public to know what to expect in public and private spaces and for responsible law-abiding residents who carry firearms to understand and comply with the law."

"But at this time, in the absence of state or local legislation prohibiting firearms in specified sensitive locations, the carrying of firearms with a valid permit is lawful in most public and private places in California," Shikada wrote.

The "emergency ordinance" that the council will consider on Monday would kick in immediately. Concurrently, Shikada suggested that if the council wants to consider additional areas where firearms would be prohibited, it can form an ad hoc committee to weigh the risks and benefits of the new restrictions in a confidential setting. The committee's recommendations for expanding the list of local gun-free zones would then return to the full council for approval within 90 days.

If approved, the ordinance would be Palo Alto's second new law in less than a year to restrict firearms. In June 2022, the council unanimously approved a law that would require new gun dealerships to obtain conditional use permits before they could set up shop in the city.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2023 at 7:26 am

Bystander is a registered user.

How would this be monitored? Would we have to go through courthouse style/airport style screening before entering a school, a polling place, a library, etc. Personally, it would be an additional reason for me not to visit the library as it seems like a hassle.

There was a fatal stabbing of a student by another student yesterday in the North Bay yesterday. It isn't just guns that we have to be concerned about. It is a terrible state of affairs where we have to go nowadays. Violence is a way of life for some and this is reminding me of the Wild West.

Posted by John Donegan
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2023 at 9:34 am

John Donegan is a registered user.

The Bruen decision didn't "loosen restrictions", but merely held that the government couldn't deny an application arbitarily. This is already the law in 41 states. The government can still require a permit to carry a concealed gun, and can deny permits to criminals, the insane, the addicted, and can impose training requirements, but can not make issuance subject to an official's arbitrary discretion as to whether the applicant's personal need for protection is sufficient. And is gun violence by permit holders really a problem? When was the last time you heard of an unlawful shooting by someone holding a permit?

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2023 at 10:05 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

I don't think criminals care about laws. How are all of those anti-drug and border laws working? The right to bear arms cannot be infringed except through constitutional amendment.

Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 2, 2023 at 10:14 am

Neal is a registered user.

These restrictions are totally unenforceable unless there is a metal detector at every sensitive location. If the gun is concealed how would you know it exists? What is the penalty for violating these restrictions? I bet there are plenty of people with concealed weapons that don't have permits. Good luck.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2023 at 10:24 am

Mark is a registered user.

Attorney General Bonta is correct - the Second Amendment is not a regulatory straight-jacket. It's a Constitutional right. You would think that the top lawyer in the state would know this. Instead, the state and other jurisdictions insist on posturing and trying to institute laws and ordinances that will be challenged in court. Restrictions that will ultimately be found unconstitutional, and all at taxpayer expense.

Posted by woodChuck
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2023 at 10:56 am

woodChuck is a registered user.

Does anyone really think that a criminal with ill intent cares about "gun free zones"? What fantasy world do these people live in?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 2, 2023 at 11:23 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Speaking of other regulatory straight jackets, love how Bonta refuses to hear ANY arguments about the housing targets for EIGHT years even in the face of the drastically changed realities of job losses, remote work etc. The same could apply to the forced conversion to electricity regardless of whether people want it, whether our electrical grid can sustain increased demand, etc.

Posted by Nancy the real Nancy
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2023 at 11:38 am

Nancy the real Nancy is a registered user.

So no guns allowed in homeless shelters?

What are they supposed to do....hide it in a bush for a kid to find?

Posted by Fr0hickey
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Fr0hickey is a registered user.

Will the City of Palo Alto be liable for injuries arising from illegal violent acts in the ‘sensitive places’? If the City were to institute such a ordinance, then the City should be liable for the consequences of the law as well.

Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 2, 2023 at 1:59 pm

vmshadle is a registered user.

Thanks to Gennady Sheyner for this article. Given that I was unable to find your e-mail address on the masthead page, may I offer a non-controversial comment?

In para #9, the word is correctly spelled "straitjacket."

From the Oxford online dictionary via Google:
a strong garment with long sleeves which can be tied together to confine the arms of a violent prisoner or mental patient.
restrain with a straitjacket.

Same goes for you, Mark and Online Name.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 2, 2023 at 4:32 pm

Bob is a registered user.

This seems more for show than for any significant actual benefit to society. Criminals and deranged persons aren’t likely to obey these “safe space” rules, but people of goodwill will comply. This will make such places even more dangerous by ensuring that if any attendee is armed, it’s probably going to be someone with malicious intent whose murderous plans needn’t account for any effective interference. Everyone’s for safety, but the thinking behind these proposals seems highly suspect.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2023 at 4:57 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

Criminals don't care whether they are in a gun fee zone or not. They don't obey laws. Another attempt to appear as if creating gun fee zones will make a difference. It won't.

Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 3, 2023 at 10:14 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Thanks, vmshadle. We've corrected the spelling of "straitjacket."

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