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Ruling eases gun rules in California counties

Appeals court rejects concealed-carry laws

Josh Richman McClatchy-Tribune

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court Thursday declared unconstitutional the restrictions that many California counties have used to sharply limit the right to carry a concealed handgun.

The 2-1 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a San Diego case isn’t final because it could still be appealed. But if it stands, “California will join the vast majority of other states that now (freely) issue permits to people for self-defense,” said Chuck Michel, attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association.

That would be a sea change for most San Francisco Bay Area counties, where sheriffs generally require applicants to show evidence that their safety is at such great risk that it can only be addressed by giving them a permit to carry a gun. But in other parts of California, it’s much easier to get a concealed-carry permit: While sheriffs in urban counties hand out permits by the dozens, sheriffs in less-populated rural continues hand them out by the thousands.

Thursday’s ruling, cheered by pro-gun groups and panned by gun-control advocates, means that one day all law-abiding Californians with the right training and a desire for self-defense could have the right to carry concealed handguns.

San Diego still can seek review of the ruling by an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. If that is denied, or if either side chooses to appeal the larger panel’s ruling, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

By state law, requirements for concealed-carry permits include demonstrating “good moral character,” taking a training course and establishing “good cause.”

It’s up to counties and cities to set policies for seeking such permits, and this lawsuit – filed by several San Diego residents and Michel’s organization – challenged San Diego’s interpretation of “good cause.”

The county’s policy requires “a set of circumstances that distinguish the applicant from the mainstream and causes him or her to be placed in harm’s way.” But concern for “one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause,” San Diego’s policy says. Applicants have had to provide documentation – such as restraining orders, letters from law enforcement or prosecutors – to prove a special need for self-protection.

A federal district judge had ruled that’s OK in order to protect public safety, but the 9th Circuit reversed that ruling Thursday, finding the county’s policy “impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense.”

The case may be ripe for the Supreme Court’s review since three other circuits on the East Coast have ruled differently, setting up a conflict. The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that law-abiding citizens can keep handguns in the home for self-defense but didn’t determine whether that right extends outside the home.

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