SAN FRANCISCO — Dealing a blow to gun supporters, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Americans do not have a constitutional right to carry concealed weapons in public.
In a dispute that could wind up before the Supreme Court, a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said local law enforcement officials can place significant restrictions on who is allowed to carry concealed guns.
By a vote of 7-4, the court upheld a California law that says applicants must cite a “good cause” to obtain a concealed-carry permit. Typically, people who are being stalked or threatened, celebrities who fear for their safety, and those who routinely carry large amounts of cash or other valuables are granted 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,” Circuit Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority.
It’s unclear exactly how or if the 9th Circuit’s decision will affect Nevada because getting a concealed-carry permit in the state differs significantly compared with California.
Considered a “shall-issue” state, those looking for a concealed firearm permit in Nevada need only meet three simple criteria: be 21 or older, don’t be a felon and take a certified firearms safety course. If those requirements are met, the sheriff will issue a permit.
In 2011, the Legislature eased requirements for people to qualify for concealed weapon permits for semiautomatic handguns. Previously, a person needed to obtain a separate permit and demonstrate proficiency for each specific weapon. Under the 2011 law, a qualified applicant can obtain one permit for all semiautomatic firearms and demonstrate competency with semiautomatic weapons in general, rather than each gun individually.
The law also made information about concealed weapon permit holders confidential.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling overturned a 2014 decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that said applicants need only express a desire for personal safety.
Gun owners said they expect to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and also would challenge California’s law banning residents from carrying guns openly.
In a dissent, Circuit Judge Consuelo M. Callahan said the ruling “obliterates the Second Amendment’s right to bear a firearm in some manner in public for self-defense.”
California counties’ “limited licensing of the right to carry concealed firearms is tantamount to a total ban on the right of an ordinary citizen to carry a firearm in public for self-defense,” wrote Callahan, who had been on the 2014 panel.
“While states may choose between different manners of bearing arms for self-defense, the right must be accommodated,” she wrote.
Three other federal appeals courts have ruled similarly in the past, upholding California-like restrictions in New York, Maryland and New Jersey. Also, another federal appeals court struck down Illinois’ complete ban on carrying concealed weapons.
The 9th Circuit covers nine Western states, but California and Hawaii are the only ones in which the ruling will have any practical effect. The others do not require permit applicants to cite a “good cause.” Anyone in those states with a clean record and no history of mental illness can get a permit.
The National Rifle Association called the ruling “out of touch.”
“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,” NRA legislative chief Chris W. Cox said.
Gun control advocates and others hailed the ruling.
“This is a significant victory for public safety and for local jurisdictions that apply sensible policies to protect the public,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.
California law has allowed county law enforcement agencies to set rules that limit permits for concealed guns. Some rural counties have relaxed rules and make permits easily available, while most urban counties have stricter rules.
The California case began in 2009, when Edward Peruta filed a legal challenge over the San Diego County sheriff’s refusal to issue a permit to him. Peruta said at the time he wanted a weapon to protect himself, but the sheriff said he needed a better reason, such as that his occupation exposes him to robbery.
Peruta, who is a videographer known for legally challenging local government restrictions, said he is neither a hunter, collector or target shooter but challenged the law because he believed it violated the Constitution. The NRA joined him in fighting the law.
Chuck Michel, the lawyer for the gun owners in the case, said his clients were disappointed but not surprised “given the political inclinations of the judges on this panel.”
He noted the ruling failed to decide whether California must permit residents to carry guns openly if they are prevented from carrying them concealed. The issue in the case involved the concealed carrying of weapons, and the court did not reach the question of whether the ban on openly carrying guns violated the Constitution.
“California law bans open carry, so the constitutionality of that ban will now be tested in a new legal challenge,” Michel said.
The San Diego Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that since the 9th Circuit tossed out the law two years ago, it has received 2,463 applications from people seeking a concealed-weapon permit without having to show good cause.
Sheriff’s lawyer Robert Faigan said the department hasn’t processed those applications and will continue to hold on to them while it waits to see what the Supreme Court does.