Riverside, California Sheriff Stan Sniff Sued for “Discriminatory and Unconstitutional” Handgun Carry Policies in Federal Court

Los Angeles, CA — Today, attorneys for a Riverside County resident and five public interest organizations filed a new federal lawsuit against the Sheriff Stanley Sniff and the County of Riverside over handgun carry license policies and practices that, the plaintiffs allege, are unconstitutional. A copy of the complaint for van Nieuwenhuyzen v. Sniff can be viewed at www.calgunsfoundation.org/sniff.

After purchasing a handgun with the intention of eventually lawfully carrying it for self-defense, plaintiff Arie van Nieuwenhuyzen asked the Riverside County Sherriff’s Department how he could apply for a “CCW” license to carry it in public. But the Sheriff’s Department told him that, because he was a legal U.S. resident and not a U.S. citizen, he could not even apply for a license under Sheriff Sniff’s handgun policies and practices. That, the plaintiffs say, is unconstitutional.

“Courts across the country have long held that legal United States residents are entitled to the same constitutional protections as everyone else,” explained lead attorney George M. Lee. “Sheriff Sniff’s discriminatory and unconstitutional policies and practices are denying people access to the right to keep and bear arms and violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s command that all people shall enjoy equal protection of our laws.”

Plaintiff van Nieuwenhuyzen has been a legal resident of the United States, living in Riverside, and since 1983, “has raised an American family, owned a successful business, been involved in his community, serves as a member of his church and Sunday school teacher, and has obeyed all laws and customs of his adopted country and state,” Lee wrote in the complaint.

“Mr. van Nieuwenhuyzen has a fundamental human right to carry his gun outside his home for self-defense, but Sheriff Sniff’s policies and practices prevent him from doing so. Those customs are our first target in this case, and we look forward to forcing Sheriff Sniff to respect and follow the United States Constitution,” concluded Lee.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney George M. Lee of San Francisco litigation firm Seiler Epstein Ziegler & Applegate LLP. The lawsuit is backed by California Gun Rights Foundation (CGF), Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF), and Madison Society Foundation (MSF), also institutional plaintiffs in the case, whose Riverside County residents are affected.

The press-enterprise published:

In his lawsuit, Arie van Nieuwenhuyzen, a legal U.S. resident who was born in The Netherlands, argues his rights were violated last year when the Sheriff’s Department told him he could not apply for a permit because he is not a U.S. citizen. The Riverside resident and business owner said he bought a handgun for self-defense purposes, a need that extends beyond his home.

“Courts across the country have long held that legal United States residents are entitled to the same constitutional protections as everyone else,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, George M. Lee, said in a statement. “Sheriff Sniff’s discriminatory and unconstitutional policies and practices are denying people access to the right to keep and bear arms and violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s command that all people shall enjoy equal protection of our laws.” The other plaintiffs are the Calguns Foundation, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Firearms Policy Coalition, the Firearms Policy Foundation, and the Madison Society Foundation.

Sniff and Riverside County are named as defendants in the lawsuit. County spokesman Ray Smith deferred to the sheriff’s office for comment.

Riverside County sheriff candidate Chad Bianco (File photo).

Sniff believes the lawsuit is meant to help sheriff’s Lt. Chad Bianco, who is challenging the sheriff in the upcoming general election. “This is purely a campaign ploy by a guy that’s not qualified for the office pulling out all the stops,” Sniff said.

Bianco campaign spokesman Andre Levesque said Sniff’s comments are “(a) typical explanation.”

“He blames others for releasing 30,000 inmates early, (for) his fiscal mismanagement, and (for) violent crime rates increasing in Riverside County,” Levesque said. “He is in charge, the buck stops with him. All of these issues will be addressed when Chad Bianco is Sheriff.”

In an email, the Firearms Policy Coalition wrote: “Sheriff Sniff’s hilarious response shows how desperate he is to deflect from what the lawsuit is about: his unconstitutional, unlawful, and discriminatory policies and practices.”

A check of campaign finance records shows no obvious donations to Bianco’s campaign by the plaintiffs.

Sniff said he has the support of “more moderate” guns rights groups such as the National Rifle Association and California Rifle & Pistol Association.

He referred to an NRA TV segment featuring an interview with rifle and pistol association Executive Director Rick Travis, who said he didn’t understand why Sniff was being sued when Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell issues far fewer concealed carry permits in a much larger county.

“The person in question in this lawsuit didn’t even apply for a CCW; (he) did a simple inquiry,” Travis said. “If you look at the actual record of Sheriff Sniff, he has a 98 percent approval rating of everybody that applies. So this is totally suspect … and just another example of poor politics that divide our community in the Second Amendment rather than bring us together.”

There are 189 active concealed carry permit holders in Los Angeles County, according to that county’s sheriff’s office. L.A. County has roughly 10 million residents.

Riverside County, which is home to about 2.4 million people, currently has about 4,000 active concealed carry permits, sheriff’s officials said. The number has risen from roughly 1,200 in 2014 to about 3,000 in 2017.

Concealed carry permits have become an issue in the sheriff’s race. Bianco has criticized Sniff for not issuing permits – the wait has taken as long as two years, per published reports – in a timely manner.

“I believe that every person who desires a concealed weapons permit, otherwise not prevented by law or psychological concern, should be granted a permit,” Bianco says on his campaign website. “ … I believe that a right delayed is a right denied.  I will strive to provide the county with the services they demand.”

Sniff has blamed the slow pace of permit approvals on a lack of funding and a spike in demand following the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack. He has said the budget approved this year by the Board of Supervisors gave him more resources to process permit applications.

Sniff, who has been sheriff since 2007, is in the fight of his political life against Bianco, who finished first in the June primary and beat Sniff by more than 14,000 votes. In all, four candidates ran for sheriff in the primary, with 68 percent of voters choosing someone other than the incumbent.

Bianco has said Sniff’s mismanagement has led to poor deputy morale and puts public safety at risk. Sniff, who said he’s guided the department through tough budget times, counters that Bianco, who has received at least $850,000 from the union representing sheriff’s deputies, is beholden to a union determined to run the Sheriff’s Department.

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