Court: No Right to Carry Concealed Weapons in Public

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An instructor demonstrates a revolver as he teaches a packed class to obtain the Utah concealed gun carry permit on Jan. 9, 2016. (George Frey/Getty Images)

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 ultimately 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 supply a "good cause" to obtain a concealed-carry permit. 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 often given permits.

The ruling overturned a decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that said applicants need only express a desire for personal safety.

The 9th Circuit's rulings are binding in nine Western states. Only two other federal appeals courts have taken up the issue — in cases out of New York and Maryland — and both ruled the way the 9th Circuit did.

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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," said NRA legislative chief Chris W. Cox.

The New York-based gun control organization Everytown welcomed the decision as "a major victory for public safety."

The 9th Circuit decision arose from a lawsuit Edward Peruta filed challenging the San Diego County sheriff's refusal to issue him a permit because he failed to cite a "good cause." The sheriff required applicants to produce supporting documents, such as a restraining order against a possible attacker.

Peruta argued that the requirement violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In an interview with KQED, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler called the ruling a major victory for gun control advocates.

"Had the court ruled the other way, it’s likely we would have seen hundreds of thousands of more guns on the streets of California cities," said Winkler.

"While the ruling affects all of California, its biggest impact by far will be in the cities that can continue to have concealed carry permitting policies that effectively mean very, very few people can carry guns on the street."

Winkler also noted the unlikelihood that the case will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court before another justice is appointed.

"While it’s a big open question whether the Second Amendment allows people to carry guns in public, I think the court, while it’s short-handed with only eight justices, is not likely to take such a hot-button issue where they’d likely end up with a 4-4 ruling."

This post has been updated