Why California Will Lose the Linton v. Becerra Gun Rights Case

By GRW Chief Editor Comments (3)

Correction version of the Seal of the US District Court, Northern District of California

Understanding The Linton v. Calif. Attorney General Xavier Becerra Case

When Chad Linton and Paul McKinley Stewart fought for and successfully had their minor felony convictions from the 1970s and 1980s in Washington and Arizona overturned, their records were stricken from the books and that should have been the end of painful lesson that neither of them will ever forget. To their shock though, California discovered their past transgressions and has barred either of them from ever owning a gun... despite the US Constitution preventing the state from doing so.

Chad Linton

Seal of the California Department of JusticeIn 1987, Chad Linton was 18 years old and stationed at a US Naval base in the state of Washington taking weekend liberty away from the base when he was spotted speeding by a police officer, who attempted to pull him over. Being late for his check-in and at this point quite close to the base, he made the foolish decision to speed up to try and make it back before the officer could catch him. After a short time, he realized this was a bad idea and pulled over. He was arrested without further incident.

He then learned that in the state of Washington, evading the police even for a brief time is a felony. He spent the next 7 days in jail and upon release, served mandatory probation and some community service. The case was left open-ended and no felony was ever officially entered into his record.

When he was sentenced, the Washington State court judge, who was sympathetic to Mr. Linton, told him that he would not want to see his military career destroyed over the incident. He told him that if he successfully completed all terms of his probation, the court would reduce the matter to a misdemeanor, and have the matter discharged from his records. Chad put the matter behind him believing that this had in fact happened and was seemingly confirmed to him the following year when Linton received a certificate of discharge, showing that he successfully completed his probation, and which included a statement that “the defendant’s civil rights lost by operation of law upon conviction be HEREBY RESTORED.”

He shortly afterward moved back to California and in the ensuing 30+ years stayed out of trouble with the law. He bought several guns during this time, undergoing multiple background checks and fingerprint-based database queries of law enforcement records which never flagged him as being a prohibited person.

However, in December of 2015, he attempted to buy another gun and this one finally showed him as being prohibited from possessing a firearm — by the state, not the federal government. To clear up the matter, he traveled back to Washington and hired a lawyer to formally request that his record be expunged. The judge looked at the facts of his case and decided that Chad was no danger to society, clearing the felony from the books and granting him his right to owns guns back. It's worth noting that he didn't necessarily have to actually do this since the FBI records at the time didn't show him as actually being a felon. The state of California had been relying on an incomplete report on the matter showing that he was charged with a felony and that he pled guilty. They never dug any farther to find the full resolution of the case in Washington.

At this point, He is not only not a felon but has never been a felon in the eyes of any court in the country. Additionally, he now has a court order from the originating state proclaiming him as perfectly legal to purchase and own guns. A copy of the order was then sent directly to the FBI by the judge as a further effort to proclaim Linton's innocence.

Despite this, the California Attorney General's office decided that since they see an offense that qualifies as a felony on the old copy of the arrest record that they found and that since he pled guilty, he is, therefore, a felon as far as they're concerned, regardless of having been exonerated by the original state where the offense happened... in clear violation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution.

Seal of The California Bureau of FirearmsIn October of 2016, Mr. Linton then voluntarily underwent a Personal Firearms Eligibility Check (PFEC) with the California DOJ to confirm his eligibility to purchase and/or possess a firearm. Based upon this check, the DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms informed him that he was, in fact, eligible both to possess and purchase firearms, based upon a search of California’s records. The PFEC form indicated, however, that the actual purchase of a firearm would involve the search of a federal database by the DOJ. This was obviously not an issue since the federal database did not show his as a felon and did not bar him from owning guns.

In October of 2018, Chad once again attempted to purchase a rifle that was legal to possess in California but was again was denied the right to purchase. In November, the California DOJ informed Linton that he was ineligible to purchase or possess firearms pursuant to its review of state and/or federal records which purported to show that plaintiff was a “Felon: Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, of the State of California, or of any other state, government, or country.” However, the only felony conviction he had ever received was the one in Washington State, which by that time had already been vacated and for which his firearms rights specifically had been restored to him by the Washington court.

Proving the incompetence of the California DOJ, Linton then requested and underwent a “Live Scan” fingerprint-based background check request with the department directly. Within a few days, the results of that scan were returned to him and showed no felony convictions in his history. 

He then mailed a copy of the exoneration letter from Washington to the DOJ, which they neglected to respond to at all. He waited close to a year and finally just sent the letter again. The response he got was cryptic and curious, stating that “the entry in question cannot be found on your California criminal history record, therefore, no further investigation is required.”

Believing he might have finally cleared up the bizarre behavior of the DOJ, he decided to try one more time to buy a gun —  and was again denied by the DOJ. In March of 2018, the inept DOJ sent Linton a letter stating that the attempted firearm purchase was denied due to the presence of a prior felony conviction — obviously referring to the now-vacated Washington arrest.

They next sent California's Department of Justice agents to Mr. Linton's house with a search warrant under the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) program to seize all of his guns. Mr. Linton was not home at the time, but his wife was. Upon arrival and upon learning what they were there for, Mrs. Linton retrieved the court order from the judge in Washington who granted him his right to own firearms back and showed it to the agents. For their part, the agents were sympathetic and understanding and called the Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson's office to explain the situation. Wilson told them that it didn't matter and that they were to take the guns anyway, so they reluctantly confiscated every gun he had, including the antique shotgun that his grandfather had given him. One agent later sent an email to his bosses protesting the actions they were forced to perform and supportive of Linton's rights to his guns.

Ridiculously, when Mr. Linton asked the Attorney General's office how he would go about getting his firearm rights in California restored, they told him that it would require a presidential pardon since there is no other process for it to happen by. This is obvious nonsense since he is not now nor has he ever been a felon and there would be nothing to pardon — not to mention the fact that US presidents cannot pardon state crimes anyway, only federal ones.

Small version of the Seal of the US District Court, Northern District of California

Paul Stewart

As an 18-year-old in Yuma County, Arizona in 1976, Paul made the poor decision one night to climb a fence and enter an unlocked truck owned by the telephone company to steal some tools. Like Chad above, he performed his sentence and cleared the matter sufficiently to have it downgraded from a felony and later stricken from his record entirely.

Despite this, the state of California is still defiantly refusing to restore Mr. Stewart's gun rights to him.

He later made a connection with the lawyers representing Mr. Linton and has joined the case as a co-plaintiff.

The Lawsuit

Attorney George Lee from the law firm of Seiler, Epstein, Ziegler, & Applegate, LLP out of San Francisco is representing both plaintiffs. The firm is further joined by:

Named as defendants in the case are:

  • Attorney General Xavier Becerra
  • Acting DOJ Bureau of Firearms Chief Martin Horan, and
  • Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson

Why California Will Lose

  1. California's big problem? This is a direct violation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause outlined in detail in Article IV, Section 1 of the US Constitution. It specifically states that all states must respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state."

  2. But, it gets worse. Since California was accepting exonerations from judges within its own borders but not out of state judges, it then became guilty of violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1, which prevents states from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner.

  3. Additionally and similarly, they violated the Privileges or Immunities Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment in Section 1, Clause 2, which states that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

  4. Since California systematically half-asses everything except its own incompetence, it then compounded the massive legal blunder by unlawfully confiscating Mr. Linton's existing legal firearms and hence became guilty of violating the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.

  5. And finally, does it really need to be pointed out that California's zeal to prevent as many people as possible from owning guns has resulted in a blatant violation of the Second Amendment?

We stated at the beginning of this section that the state will lose; however, we need to keep in mind that this is Califonia we're talking about. The plaintiffs could, in fact, be the ones who lose, but since the case has ballooned to national attention our strong suspicion is that it will be appealed if that happens and appealed again if necessary right up to SCOTUS if need be. Past US Supreme Courts would probably pass on taking the case, but we've talked before about how this new high court might just take such a case. The net result is that the overall likelihood of this failing all the way up to SCOTUS and then failing even there is just not very high.

The bulk of this information comes from the Firearms Policy Coalition. The FPC is looking for anyone who has had a similar situation, where their gun rights were restored by another state but the reinstatement is not being recognized by the state of California. If your case fits this description, please contact the FPC/FPF Legal Action Hotline at or (855) 252-4510 (available 24/7/365) immediately. 

Disclaimer: Gun Rights Watch does not give legal advice and no content contained herein may be construed as offering legal advice.
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