Sheriff Ed Prieto

Yolo County concealed weapons law overturned

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014 - 11:25 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014 - 2:31 pm

In the latest victory for firearms advocates, a federal appeals court has tossed out Yolo County’s policy requiring citizens to prove they face a threat of violence or robbery before they can get a concealed weapon permit.

In an unpublished memorandum issued Wednesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel found Yolo County’s “policy impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense.”

The memorandum reversed a 2011 decision by a Sacramento federal judge who upheld the policy. His action, however, came nearly three years before a circuit opinion last month laying down definitive Second Amendment law in the nine Western states.

Wednesday’s appellate ruling rests on that much broader February opinion in a similar lawsuit challenging San Diego County’s policy, which essentially found that county’s sheriff and other officials throughout the sprawling circuit cannot demand proof that a citizen has “good cause” before a concealed weapon permit can be obtained.

Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain authored the opinion on San Diego’s policy and was joined by Judge Consuelo M. Callahan. Judge Sidney R. Thomas dissented, stating the county’s “good cause” policy fell squarely within the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of a regulatory measure that must be presumed to be lawful.

The same panel issued Wednesday’s ruling on Yolo County’s policy. This time Thomas, in a qualified concurrence, said he agrees with the majority, but only if the San Diego County case survives further scrutiny by an enlarged 9th Circuit panel and/or the Supreme Court.

Yolo County’s policy required applicants to show they faced “credible threats of violence” or that they carried large amounts of cash and needed enhanced protection – requirements that were once common in many counties.

The latest ruling affects only Yolo County directly and, in essence, served notice to Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto that his policy was unconstitutional under the Feb. 13 opinion in the San Diego County case.

Prieto did not immediately signal whether he would actively seek to salvage his policy.

“We received the 9th Circuit Court’s decision today and we now have 14 days to decide whether to pursue a petition for a rehearing before a larger panel of the court,” Prieto said in an email from his office. “We will be discussing this with our counsel before deciding our next course of action.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris already has appealed the 2-1 appellate decision in the San Diego County case, urging the court to reverse its ruling, arguing that local law enforcement officials must be allowed to determine who can carry a concealed weapon in their jurisdictions.

But gun owners and advocacy groups that oppose limits on concealed weapon permits hailed Wednesday’s opinion as another step toward expanding a citizen’s right to protect himself or herself from criminal activities.

“Today’s ruling reinforces the Second Amendment’s application to state and local governments, and will help clear the way for more California citizens to exercise their right to bear arms,” said Second Amendment Foundation founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “California officials have been put on notice that they can no longer treat the Second Amendment as a heavily regulated government privilege.”

The tide has been turning against limitations on concealed weapon permits in recent years, largely because of aggressive gun-rights campaigns and heightened concerns during the economic downturn regarding cuts in law enforcement.

Sacramento County, for instance, had a highly restrictive policy on the issuance of concealed weapon permits, typically allowing them only if an applicant could show that he or she faced some sort of danger, carried large amounts of valuables, or had ties to law enforcement.

The Sacramento County policy and then-Sheriff John McGinness were originally the targets of the lawsuit that eventually added Yolo County and Prieto.

Sacramento County’s policy changed dramatically following the 2010 race to succeed McGinness. All the major candidates for sheriff rushed to convince voters they would relax the strict policy. In May of 2010, there were 319 concealed weapon permits in Sacramento County, according to Sacramento Bee stories about the Sacramento County sheriff’s race. There are now about 4,200, a sheriff’s spokesman said Wednesday.

Sheriff Scott Jones now has a policy stating that applicants must be of good moral character and have “good cause” to carry a weapon, but he made it clear during the campaign that “good cause” could mean simply wanting a permit, as long as the applicant did not have a mental illness or criminal background and had passed a firearms safety course.

Other counties in the region have followed similar paths.


Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.



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