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California sheriffs can restrict concealed guns, court says

The justices on Monday left in place an appeals court ruling that upheld strict limits on issuing permits for concealed weapons.
The justices on Monday left in place an appeals court ruling that upheld strict limits on issuing permits for concealed weapons. Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a California law that places strict limits on carrying guns in public.

The case concerned a California law that essentially bans carrying guns openly in public and allows carrying concealed weapons only if applicants can demonstrate good cause. The challengers, several individuals and gun rights groups, sued San Diego and Yolo counties, saying that officials there interpreted good cause so narrowly as to make it impossible to carry guns in public for self-defense.

San Diego, for instance, defined good cause to require proof that the applicant was “in harm’s way,” adding that “simply fearing for one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause.”

As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for deciding not to hear the case. The court has turned away numerous Second Amendment cases in recent years, to the frustration of gun rights groups and some conservative justices.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, dissented. The court’s refusal to hear the case, Thomas wrote, “reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right.”

“For those of us who work in marbled halls, guarded constantly by a vigilant and dedicated police force,” Thomas wrote, “the guarantees of the Second Amendment might seem antiquated and superfluous. But the framers made a clear choice: They reserved to all Americans the right to bear arms for self-defense. I do not think we should stand by idly while a state denies its citizens that right, particularly when their very lives may depend on it.”

The court has seldom addressed the scope of Second Amendment rights. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep guns at home for self-defense.

Since then, the court has said little else about what other laws may violate the Second Amendment. In the lower courts, very few challenges to gun control laws since the Heller decision have succeeded.

But legal experts say that it is only a matter of time before the court confronts the question of whether and how the Second Amendment applies outside the home.

In a 7-4 ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, said there was no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed weapon.

“Based on the overwhelming consensus of historical sources, we conclude that the protection of the Second Amendment – whatever the scope of that protection may be – simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public,” Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority.

The court did not decide whether the Second Amendment allows leeway for states to ban carrying guns in public.

“There may or may not be a Second Amendment right for a member of the general public to carry a firearm openly in public,” Fletcher wrote. “The Supreme Court has not answered that question, and we do not answer it here.”

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