A federal appeals court decided Thursday that people do not have a constitutional right to carry concealed weapons in public.
Overturning a three-judge panel’s decision, a larger group of judges from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said California counties may require people who want permits for concealed guns to show a specific reason why they need the weapons.
“The 2nd Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public,” the court ruled, 7-4.
The 11-judge panel took up the case after state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris appealed a ruling by a panel of the 9th Circuit two years ago that struck down a policy of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. The department had required applicants to show “good cause” why they needed a concealed weapons permit.
Harris said Thursday that the devastating impact of gun violence in our communities underscores a need for “common sense” gun safety laws.
“The court’s decision is a victory for public safety and sensible gun safety laws,” she said in a statement sent via email. “The ruling ensures that local law enforcement leaders have the tools they need to protect public safety by determining who can carry loaded, concealed weapons in our communities.”
The ruling came about a year after oral arguments were heard in San Francisco. It stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by Edward Peruta, who is the owner of an independent news service and a part-time San Diego resident, and other gun owners who were denied concealed-carry permits.
They argued that the Sheriff’s Department’s policy was unconstitutional.
Under that policy, which applies countywide, applicants must have a specific reason to want to carry a concealed weapon, such as needing protection from a stalker or working a job that handles large amounts of cash. Applicants must also pass a background test, have good moral character and complete firearms training.
Peruta lost the lawsuit in federal court, but won the case on appeal to a 9th Circuit three-judge panel in February 2014.
The 2-1 decision held that the policy was overly restrictive. The panel found that the desire to protect oneself is enough good cause for a law-abiding citizen to be able to carry a concealed gun.
Sheriff Bill Gore could have appealed that ruling, but decided against it, writing to the court that he believes it’s his job to enforce the law, not make law.
The case would have been all but over, but an anonymous 9th Circuit judge polled the rest of the appeals court asking if there was interest for the case to be reheard “en banc,” or in front of a larger panel. There was interest.
Eleven judges heard arguments on June 16 in San Francisco, with the Sheriff’s Department ceding its oral argument to the state Attorney General’s Office. The Peruta case was heard alongside a similar case out of Yolo County at the same session.
Much of the judges’ questioning revolved around whether the Constitution affords the same right to bear arms at the shopping mall as in the countryside. The en banc panel also asked whether California’s recent law banning the open carry of unloaded firearms further restricts the right to self-defense.
While the case is specific to San Diego and Yolo counties’ permitting policies, the ruling is the new law of the land throughout California, if not the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction of Western states and Pacific islands.
But courts in other parts of the country remain divided on the issue, making it more and more likely that a concealed weapon case will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court at some point.
In December, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., overturned a lower judge’s ruling that the city’s limits on carrying concealed weapons outside the home was likely unconstitutional. The District of Columbia operates under a similar “good reason” rule for those wanting a concealed-carry permit.
However, the appeals court did not rule on the merits of the issue itself, but on a technicality and sent the case to be heard by a different judge.
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