The Palo Alto City Council has voted unanimously to restrict concealed firearms from being carried in certain locations deemed sensitive, while also holding open the possibility of adding to the list of restricted locations in the future.

Councilmembers passed both an emergency ordinance, making it effective immediately, and a separate, standard ordinance that will allow amendments to the original language and make the ordinance available for public comment.

The ordinance bans concealed firearms on any city-owned property, active polling place, or school, whether it be public or private.

Included in the emergency ordinance was a direction to staff to draft a resolution that states that the city is deeply concerned for the safety of its residents given what it called an epidemic of gun violence in Santa Clara County, California, and the U.S.

In its emergency ordinance, the Palo Alto City Council cites Santa Clara County’s growing firearm death rate. (City of Palo Alto)

Councilmember Greg Tanaka said he supported the spirit of the ordinance and wanted to prevent mass shootings but said he did not think the restrictions would make any difference and questioned the need for limitations on lawfully concealed firearms.

“Are we actually going to stop gun violence with this? I don’t think so,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka said that the restrictions could prevent someone who was legally permitted to carry a concealed firearm from protecting the City Council from a shooter who entered the chambers.

“I don’t know if this is really helping, but what I think it does do is, the people who are law abiding, who do get concealed weapon permits, who maybe happen to be sitting at city council, and whoever is not so law abiding and didn’t get a concealed weapon permit pulls a gun, you know, it makes it tougher for them to be protected I guess, or to protect,” he said.

Demonstrated need

Councilmember Vicki Veenker said recent mass shootings in the area, including at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 2019 and at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose in 2021, demonstrated the need to restrict firearms in as many sensitive places as possible.

Tanaka challenged her to provide any data that showed those shootings would have been prevented by restricting legally concealed firearms, which drew a rebuke from Councilmember Patrick Burt, who said that that no gun control measure is a “panacea” and called the argument “specious.”

“Are we actually going to stop gun violence with this? I don’t think so.”

Councilmember Greg Tanaka

The council limited the emergency ordinance to sensitive locations recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2022 decision that invalidated blanket restrictions on concealed weapons. The decision in the case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, left open the ability for local jurisdictions to restrict concealed firearms in certain sensitive locations, which it recognized as government buildings, active polling places and schools.

Current court cases are testing what other locations might be included in an expanded list as different jurisdictions in California and across the nation pass varying restrictions. The emergency ordinance passed Monday included a direction to the city attorney to monitor those cases and provide updates on additional restricted locations.