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Gun advocates promise to renew assault on gun ban in San Mateo County parks

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San Mateo County has banned guns in its parks since 1934, but gun-rights groups would like to see that overturned. - ANITAKHART/FLICKR (CC)
  • anitakhart/flickr (CC)
  • San Mateo County has banned guns in its parks since 1934, but gun-rights groups would like to see that overturned.

Gun enthusiasts and ordinary park-goers will have to coexist more or less peacefully in San Mateo County, now that an appellate court has upheld the county's ban on firearms in protected parks and recreation areas. Local politicians praised last week's decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, which ended a two-year battle with the Calguns Foundation and other staunch proponents of the right to bear arms.

Even in tranquil San Mateo County, which is home to several shooting ranges and no shortage of Second Amendment acolytes, guns are a divisive issue. County counsel John Beiers noted that the Roseville-based Calguns Foundation wouldn't have acted without local support.

But San Mateo County's government generally opposes possession of firearms, even by licensed owners. District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said that when he nabs someone for unlawful gun possession, he routinely charges a felony instead of a misdemeanor, just to send a message. And the county enacted its ordinance prohibiting weapons in parks in 1934, and it has stoutly defended the law for decades.

Beiers deems the court decision a victory for local governments. "I think it reaffirms that, absent an unequivocal state pre-emption, the courts are reluctant to disturb the power of local governments to determine what is right for their communities," he said. "We think the court got it right."

But Calguns attorney Donald Edward Joseph Kilmer said the fight isn't over, yet.

"We're disappointed in the ruling, but this doesn't end the case," Kilmer said. "We can file a new suit in federal court, or we can take it to the California Supreme Court."

Since the appeals court ruled on a very narrow question — whether or not the county should bring its park ordinances in line with state laws — Kilmer said gun-rights advocates can always revise their complaint and start the battle anew. The larger issue pertains to civil liberties for gun owners who have already shown a need for self-defense, he said.

"Why does it make sense that somebody who has a license to carry a firearm can do so in downtown Redwood City, but they can't go out in the wilderness where there are mountain lions?" Kilmer asked.

Wagstaffe said that he, for one, would like to visit the county parks without having to worry about someone pulling out a gun during an argument. Yet he knows such sentiments rankle gun owners, who send a flurry of emails every time he makes a public statement on the matter.

But for now, he and Beiers will stick to their guns, so to speak.