Court Rules Second Amendment Doesn’t Guarantee Right to Carry Concealed Weapons

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Gun in Bookbag
Concealed weapons must be justified, the court ruled.Photo: Joseph C. Justice Jr.

A California federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that Americans do not have a blanket constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon in public, the Associated Press reports, taking a strong stand in the battle between gun-control and gun-rights advocates.

The federal court upheld a California law that requires applicants for a concealed-carry permit to present a “good cause” for their need to carry a weapon, such as being stalked or regularly carrying large amounts of cash or valuables. The 7–4 ruling overturned a three-judge panel of the same court, which had determined in 2014 that a desire for personal safety was sufficient cause to be granted a permit.

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 Fletcher wrote in the majority opinion, while his colleague, Judge Consuelo Callahan, dissented, saying the ruling “obliterates the Second Amendment’s right to bear a firearm in some manner in public for self-defense.”

Three other federal appeals courts have upheld similar restrictions in Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, while another struck down Illinois’s complete ban on carrying concealed weapons. The San Francisco–based Ninth Circuit’s ruling upholds restrictions enacted in California and Hawaii — the other seven states covered by the court issue concealed-carry permits to any resident with no criminal record or history of mental illness.

Advocates of gun rights and gun control reacted in character to the ruling, with the National Rifle Association calling it “out of touch,” and California Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein calling it “a significant victory for public safety.” Law professor Adam Winkler characterized the court’s decision to the New York Times as “a huge ruling” but expressed doubt that the Supreme Court would take up the issue without a split in the Circuit Courts, which hasn’t happened yet.

But Jonathan E. Lowy, the director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said he would be “surprised but not shocked” if the court took up a case on the right to concealed carry anyway, considering the major constitutional question at stake.

In its last major ruling on gun control, the 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held explicitly, for the first time, that the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

The majority opinion in that 5–4 decision was written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.