Gun-rights groups are suing California’s Riverside County and its sheriff after a legal U.S. resident from the Netherlands who has lived in the country for 35 years says he was denied a concealed-carry permit on the grounds that he isn’t a U.S. citizen.
The case is the latest challenge to touch on the intersection of guns and immigration, two of the thorniest political issues.
Arie Van Nieuwenhuyzen, a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. who has lived in the country since 1983 but retains citizenship in the Netherlands, says the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department told him earlier this month that only U.S. citizens can be granted a concealed-weapon permit, and discouraged him from going through the process to get one.
Mr. Van Nieuwenhuyzen says the sheriff’s department is violating his Second Amendment right to bear arms and his 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, according to the lawsuit filed last week in federal court.
“Mr. Van Nieuwenhuyzen has a fundamental human right to carry his gun outside his home for self-defense, but Sheriff [Stan] Sniff’s policies and practices prevent him from doing so,” said George M. Lee, the lead attorney on the case.
The sheriff’s department said Tuesday it would be inappropriate to comment publicly on pending litigation.
Courts have rejected similar refusals in other states, finding that there’s no security reason to deny legal permanent residents the same gun rights that citizens have.
In the last decade, gun-rights advocates — with support from the American Civil Liberties Union in some cases — have won injunctions against similar laws in a handful of states, including North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska.
While the ACLU spars with gun groups over the 2008 Supreme Court decision that found an individual has a right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, the two sides join in fighting discrimination against noncitizens.
“Any number of the categories, for example, require no proof of dangerousness, and they often serve to further bias,” ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling wrote earlier this year, saying federal laws prohibiting certain people from having guns cover “many noncitizens who have not been shown to be dangerous in any way.”
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said the legal wins are helping protect gun rights in the future for everyone.
“If you can get a win saying that a permanent resident legal alien has the right to keep and bear arms, it’s a lot harder for the courts to ever come back and say well, citizens don’t have those rights,” said Mr. Gottlieb, whose group is among those bringing the suit. “So it helps cement in everybody’s rights when we do this — it expands it and protects it.”
While the 2008 Heller decision affirmed the constitutional right to carry a gun for self-protection, it left the door open for states to craft their own restrictions on such matters as whether people could carry concealed weapons, said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who has written extensively on First and Second Amendment issues.
He said that means the gun-rights argument may be less important than the discrimination claims under the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
“Let’s say that there’s no right to concealed carry, as the Supreme Court said in D.C. v. Heller,” he said. “Still, there’s a right to be treated equally. So as a result, if a state allows concealed carry by citizens but doesn’t allow it by noncitizens, then in that case that’s unconstitutional.”
He said a decades-old California appellate court decision did hold that the government can’t restrict legal aliens from owning guns.
Federal law does allow legal permanent residents like Mr. Van Nieuwenhuyzen to own guns, but it doesn’t extend that right to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally or to people who are in the country on temporary visas, like students.
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