The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wisely upheld a California law on Thursday that empowers local sheriffs to deny permits for concealed firearms to people unless they can show a specific need. The decision also affirmed gun owners’ rights.
Reasonable, though, the ruling is, any case involving the Second Amendment is fraught, especially in an election year, and particularly this year when control of the U.S. Supreme Court is at stake.
As if voters needed another reminder of this election’s significance, gun owners’ attorneys vowed to appeal to the high court, which has been split among four Republican appointees and four Democratic appointees since conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.
By a 7-4 vote, the 9th Circuit judges, acting on cases from Yolo and San Diego counties, held that sheriffs are within their rights to deny concealed carry permits unless people can document threats, are involved in businesses involving large sums of cash, or can show other similar cause.
While some urban sheriffs issue few concealed carry permits, others are far more liberal. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has issued nearly 8,000 permits since being elected in 2010, and intends to continue issuing concealed carry permits to law-abiding adult residents of the county who seek them.
“Just as the lower court ruling had no effect on our CCW polices, nor will this decision,” Jones said in an email to a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia. McConnell sees political advantage in the tactic as he fights to maintain GOP control of the Senate and elect Donald Trump over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton has made gun control a central part of her campaign, while Trump has denounced some laws limiting guns.
The case, Edward Peruta v. San Diego, and Adam Richards v. Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, has attracted high-powered attorneys on both sides. When San Diego dropped its defense of its policy, California Attorney General Kamala Harris stepped in, to her credit.
In 2014, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit sided with gun owners and their advocates by striking down the sheriffs’ authority to limit issuance of concealed carry permits. On Thursday, the 11-judge appellate panel overturned that ruling.
Writing for the majority, Judge William A. Fletcher said the three-judge panel’s decision “would have substantially impaired California’s ability to regulate firearms.”
“As the uncontradicted historical evidence overwhelmingly shows, the Second Amendment does not protect, in any degree, the right of a member of the general public to carry a concealed weapon in public,” Fletcher wrote.
Judge Consuelo Callahan dissented, citing 2008 and 2010 decisions by the Supreme Court affirming people’s right to keep guns in their homes, said any fair reading of those decisions suggests “the right to keep and bear arms extends beyond one’s front door.”
The case is destined for the Supreme Court, and for the campaign trail. Scalia wrote the 2008 decision cited by Callahan, and joined four other conservative justices in the 2010 case. President George W. Bush appointed Callahan. President Bill Clinton appointed Fletcher.
The National Rifle Association, which has endorsed Trump, called the majority decision “shameful.” Everytown for Gun Safety, which has endorsed Clinton, called it “a major victory for public safety.”
Thoughtful and reasonable though it was, the majority decision is destined to be drowned out by the politics of the day.