By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Monday revived a lawsuit by prospective gun shop owners who were banned by Alameda County, California, from opening within 500 feet of a residential district, ruling that local officials had failed to justify their law in the face of a constitutional right to bear arms.
A three-member panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not strike down the local ordinance, but voted 2-1 to overturn a federal judge who threw the gun store owners' lawsuit out of court.
Gun rights groups quickly hailed the decision as an important protection of the Second Amendment.
"We’re very happy to see the Court take a very principled and reasoned approach to protecting the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms," Brandon Combs, executive director of the Calguns Foundation, said in a written statement.
The Ninth Circuit panel ordered that judge to take up the case again and said that if Alameda County wanted to enforce the gun-control ordinance, officials there would have to prove that there was a basis for the restrictions.
"Alameda County's ordinance may very well be permissible. Thus far, however, the county has failed to justify the burden it has placed on the right of law-abiding citizens to purchase guns," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote in a 34-page opinion for the majority.
"The Second Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) requires something more rigorous than the unsubstantiated assertions offered to the district court," O'Scannlain wrote.
Representatives for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors could not immediately be reached for comment.
In tossing the lawsuit out of court, the lower-court judge found that Alameda County's gun restrictions were permissible to achieve such "important governmental objectives" as protecting public safety, preserving the character of residential areas and guarding against "secondary effects" of gun stores.
But the Ninth Circuit majority said that Alameda County had not provided any evidence that such objectives would be achieved.
The plaintiffs also asserted that no parcels in Alameda County would fit within the regulations, which meant that gun sales were effectively banned there.
In dissenting from the majority, Judge Barry Silverman said that the ordinance did not infringe upon anyone's right to bear arms and that "what we're dealing with here is a mundane zoning dispute dressed up as a Second Amendment challenge."
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)