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Appeals court upholds Yolo restriction on concealed weapon permits

Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto
Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto Sacramento Bee file

In a split decision upholding Yolo County’s restrictions on concealed carry weapons permits, a federal appeals court said Thursday that there is no Second Amendment right to carry concealed weapons.

The majority opinion, which came from seven judges on an 11-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, validates California’s law that allows counties, if they choose, to require individuals to prove they have “good cause,” such as a threat to their safety, before they are issued a concealed weapon permit.

The case involves challenges to the state law and to such “good cause” policies in Yolo and San Diego counties. Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said Thursday that he has enforced such a policy since he became sheriff 18 years ago.

“You have to show cause, and your cause isn’t just to protect yourself and your family,” Prieto said. “You have to show a reasonable cause (such as a threat of harm).”

Prieto said his county currently has 308 active concealed weapon permits, and that “most of these individuals have clearly established that they need to carry a concealed weapon, that their lives literally have been threatened.”

Such restrictions were the norm in many counties for decades, but in recent years have been relaxed in some local jurisdictions – including Sacramento County – to allow citizens with no criminal background or history of mental illness to apply for a concealed weapon permit without having to show a good reason.

For example, since Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones took office in 2010 and made good on his vow to loosen restrictions, the number of concealed weapon permits ballooned from fewer than 400 to 7,865, as of April.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, in a Jan. 28, 2016, interview with The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Bureau, explains his policy on concealed weapons permits.

Thursday’s court ruling does not affect counties that already have such policies, but allows other counties to adopt more restrictive rules, if desired, governing individuals’ eligibility to acquire concealed weapon permits.

“We hold that the Second Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public,” the court declared in its majority opinion.

Localization “allows more careful and accurate consideration of each individual’s license application,” the majority ruled. “California entrusts the decision-making responsibility to local law enforcement officials because they are best positioned to evaluate the potential dangers that increasing or decreasing concealed carry would have in their communities. In short, California’s decision to place licensing in local hands is itself reasonable.”

The litigation stems from lawsuits on behalf of two individuals who were denied concealed weapon permits in San Diego and Yolo counties and challenged the state’s right to authorize the counties’ restrictions. The California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation in Fullerton, which denounced Thursday’s decision, joined the plaintiffs.

“Once again, the 9th Circuit showed how out of touch it is with mainstream Americans,” CRPA President C.D. “Chuck” Michel said in a statement. “This decision will leave good people defenseless, as it completely ignores the fact that law-abiding Californians who reside in counties with hostile sheriffs will now have no means to carry a firearm outside the home for personal protection.

“This flawed ruling underscores the importance of the 2016 election. It is imperative that we elect a president who will appoint Supreme Court Justices who respect the Second Amendment and law-abiding citizens’ right to self-defense.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, had a contrary reaction, praising the decision as one that will enhance public safety.

“The devastating impact gun violence has on our communities underscores the need for common-sense gun safety laws,” Harris said in a statement. “The court's decision is a victory for public safety and sensible gun safety laws. 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.”

Prieto said he believes his policy is one of common sense – one that would, for instance, allow a jeweler who carries large amounts of valuable merchandise to apply for a permit – and that “it’s a reasonable policy.”

“I’ve been a cop 47 years, and I didn’t start carrying a concealed weapon until I became sheriff,” said Prieto, who is also a retired California Highway Patrol officer.

The opinion was authored by 9th Circuit Judge William A. Fletcher, with the concurrences of Chief Circuit Judge Sidney R. Thomas and Circuit Judges Harry Pregerson, Susan P. Graber, M. Margaret McKeown, Richard A. Paez and John B. Owens.

Dissenting were Circuit Judges Barry G. Silverman, Carlos T. Bea, Consuelo M. Callahan and N. Randy Smith.

The battle has a long and tortured history. Thursday’s decision overturned a ruling more than two years ago by a divided three-judge panel of the circuit, and it upheld decisions by district court judges in cases initiated in Sacramento in 2010 and San Diego in 2009. Callahan, based in Sacramento, was one of a two-judge majority on the 2014 circuit panel that reversed the district judges. Thomas was the dissenter on that three-judge panel. The author of that earlier opinion, Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, was not on the enlarged panel.

The two-judge majority ruled in 2014 that the Second Amendment requires that “states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home.”

Yolo County and Prieto filed a petition for rehearing by a larger panel. San Diego County chose to quit the fight, but the state of California intervened and joined Prieto in asking for a rehearing. Upon the vote of a majority of active circuit judges, the request was granted.

Joe Truesdale runs a firearms safety class for gun owners looking to qualify for a concealed weapons permit. Students spoke about wanting to protect their families.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam

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