By Paul Elias
SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court on Thursday struck down California concealed-weapons rules, saying they violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The 2-1 ruling of a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said California counties were wrong to require law-abiding applicants to show "good cause" beyond self-defense to receive a concealed-weapons permit.
California prohibits people from carrying handguns in public without a concealed-weapons permit. State law requires applicants to show good moral character, have good cause and take a training course. It's generally up to the state's sheriffs and police chiefs to issue the permits, and the vast majority require an applicant to demonstrate a real danger or other reasons beyond simple self-defense to receive a permit. The 9th Circuit on Thursday said that requirement violates the 2nd Amendment.
The San Francisco-based appeals court said those requirements were too strict and ran afoul of a 5-4 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban and said law-abiding citizens are allowed to have handguns in their home for self-defense.
"The right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable firearm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote for the majority.
Chuck Michel, an attorney who represented several San Diego County residents who were denied a permit and who filed a lawsuit in 2009, praised the 9th Circuit Court's ruling.
"This decision is a very dramatic confirmation of the Supreme Court ruling," Michel said.
O'Scannlain wrote that the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's requirement that applicants must provide documentation such as a restraining order to show a "special need" for a permit "impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense."
The ruling reversed a lower-court decision tossing out the lawsuit and ordered the judge to rule in favor of the applicants.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore could let the ruling stand and change his policy; ask that a special panel of 11 judges of the 9th Circuit rehear the case; or he could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take it.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department said it was consulting with lawyers and declined comment.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group in Washington D.C., said it hopes the decision will be overturned. It filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case urging the court to keep the current permitting policy in place.
"Neither history or precedent supports this aberrant, split decision that concocts a dangerous right of people to carry hidden handguns in public places to people whom law enforcement has determined that they have no good cause or qualifications to do so," center spokesman Jonathan Lowy said.
Judge Sidney Thomas dissented, writing that the good-cause requirement limited the number of people carrying concealed handguns in public to those legitimately in need.
"It limits the risk to public safety by reducing the number of guns in public circulation, but allows those who will most likely need to defend themselves in public to carry a handgun," Thomas wrote.
The ruling on Thursday also disagreed with three other federal appeals courts that have upheld permit rules similar to the one in California.
The U.S. Supreme Court often takes cases when federal appeals courts issue conflicting rulings.
Several other lawsuits have been filed across the nation, and Michel and others believe the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue because of the conflicting rulings.
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press