In a major victory for gun rights activists, a federal appeals panel in California has rejected a law in San Diego County that requires applicants for concealed-carry permits to demonstrate "good cause" as to why they need a gun for personal safety.
A three-judge panel on Thursday rejected a district court's ruling in favor of the county after plaintiffs appealed. The plaintiffs argued that "by defining 'good cause' in San Diego County's permitting scheme to exclude a general desire to carry for self-defense, the county impermissibly burdens their Second Amendment right to bear arms."
The district court erred "because San Diego County's 'good cause' permitting requirement impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense," wrote Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs who were denied concealed-carry licenses because they could not establish "good cause," as well as plaintiffs who anticipated they would be denied. The California Rifle and Pistol Association was an additional plaintiff in the case, and no plaintiff is otherwise banned from possessing a gun.
The case was appealed from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
Other circuit courts of appeals have been divided on the issue of carrying a handgun outside the home. The 7th Circuit ruled against a concealed-carry law passed in Illinois, while the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th circuit courts upheld regulations approved in the states of New York, New Jersey and Maryland, respectively.
The 77-page majority opinion drew upon rulings on handgun bans in the District of Columbia and the city of Chicago, particularly the landmark 2008 District v. Heller ruling that struck down D.C.'s longtime ban on handguns.
Judge O'Scannlain wrote that neither case speaks "explicitly or precisely" to the scope of the Second Amendment right outside the home or what it takes to "infringe" it.
"Speakers of the English language will all agree: 'Bearing a weapon inside the home' does not exhaust this definition of 'carry,'" he wrote. "For one thing, the very risk occasioning such carriage, 'confrontation,' is 'not limited to the home.'"
Judge O'Scannlain then provided some homey images to explain his point that the right of self-defense is more likely to be useful in public settings than private ones.
"One needn't point to statistics to recognize that the prospect of conflict — at least, the sort of conflict for which one would wish to be 'armed and ready' — is just as menacing (and likely more so) beyond the front porch as it is in the living room,'" he continued. "The idea of carrying a gun 'in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose ... of being armed and ready,' does not exactly conjure up images of father stuffing a six-shooter in his pajama pocket before heading downstairs to start the morning's coffee, or mother concealing a handgun in her coat before stepping outside to retrieve the mail. Instead, it brings to mind scenes such as a woman toting a small handgun in her purse as she walks through a dangerous neighborhood, or a night-shift worker carrying a handgun in his coat as he travels to and from his job site."
In a 48-page dissenting opinion, Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote that in addition to striking down San Diego County's concealed-carry policy, the majority ruling "upends the entire California firearm regulatory scheme."
"In dealing a needless, sweeping judicial blow to the public-safety discretion invested in local law enforcement officers and to California's carefully constructed firearm regulatory scheme, the majority opinion conflicts with Supreme Court authority, the decisions of our sister circuits, and our own circuit precedent," he wrote.
Judge Thomas also wrote that most other circuit courts to weigh the issue parted from the conclusions in the majority opinion, citing the 3rd Circuit decision on New Jersey's law, a 10th Circuit ruling on a Colorado law, and the 2nd Circuit's conclusion that "state regulation of the use of firearms in public was 'enshrined with[in] the scope' of the Second Amendment when it was adopted" and that "extensive state regulation of handguns has never been considered incompatible with the Second Amendment."
The state of California generally prohibits the open or concealed carry of a handgun in public, but delegates authority to localities to craft their own policies for obtaining concealed-carry licenses.
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