In a significant win for gun-rights advocates, a federal appeals court in San Francisco on Thursday ruled that the Second Amendment gives people the right to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense.The 2-1 decision by a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a San Diego County policy requiring residents to show a “pressing need” in order to get a permit to carry weapons in public. The judges found that in order to receive a permit, a person need only show a desire to defend himself outside the home.The ruling, which covers California and other Western states, adds to a chorus of conflicting judicial opinions from around the country in recent years on the issue of whether-and when-people can carry firearms outside the home.
While the U.S. Supreme Court established that the right to bear arms applies to individuals inside their homes in 2008 and 2010, it left open the extent to which the right extends outside the home. Legal experts say that question likely will have to be settled by the high court, which is expected later this month to decide whether to take up several other cases dealing with the reach of the “right to bear arms.”
Under California law, individuals may receive permits to carry concealed weapons outside the home as long as they show “good cause.” The law allows good cause to be defined by individual police chiefs and county sheriffs throughout the state.
San Diego County policy states explicitly that concern for “one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause.”
In the case decided Thursday, several people and the California Rifle and Pistol Foundation had sued San Diego County in 2009, claiming the requirement violated the Second Amendment.
The “question is whether [the San Diego County policy] allows the typical responsible, law-abiding citizen to bear arms in public for the lawful purpose of self-defense,” wrote Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. “The answer…is a resounding no.”
“The ruling confirms what my clients have been saying all along-that the Second Amendment requires that people be allowed to carry outside the home for self-defense,” said Chuck Michel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Judge O’Scannlain was joined by Judge Consuelo Maria Callahan, an appointee of President George W. Bush. Judge Sidney Thomas, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, dissented.
James Chapin, deputy county counsel for San Diego, defended the policy, saying that “when you’re in a county near the border, with gangs and violence, your gun policies tend to be more restrictive.” He said that San Diego County Sheriff William Gore “would follow what the legislature and courts ordered.”
Jon Lowy, a director at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, assailed the ruling in a statement: “Neither history nor precedent supports this aberrant, split decision that concocts a dangerous right to carry hidden handguns in public places to people whom law enforcement has determined…have no good cause or qualifications to do so.”
The ruling relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s 2008 and 2010 rulings, which clarified the individual right to bear arms across the country. In the first of these rulings, called District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court said that certain types of gun control are allowed under the Second Amendment, but declined to specify just what types of restrictions state and local governments can place on carrying a gun outside the home.
Since then, at least four other federal appellate courts have weighed in on the issue. A federal appellate court in Chicago in 2012 struck down an Illinois law that barred most people from carrying a gun outside the home. Federal appeals courts in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore have all upheld state laws restricting the right to carry outside the home.
On Thursday, Judge O’Scannlain took aim at those three rulings, saying “they misapprehend both the nature of the Second Amendment right and the implications of state laws that prevent the majority of responsible, law-abiding citizens from carrying in public for lawful self-defense reasons.”