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California is shaping up to be one of the next battlegrounds in the fight over the Second Amendment. A federal appeals court has thrown out a policy in San Diego County that placed tight restrictions on concealed carry permits.
As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, it's widely expected that the case will go before the Supreme Court.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: California has some of the most restrictive concealed carry laws in the country. To get a permit to carry in public here, you have to show good cause to a local official like a sheriff. In San Diego County, like a lot of urban areas, the sheriff set that bar high. You had to show him that your life was in imminent danger or, say, you were carrying a lot of valuables. Self-defense alone was not good cause to be issued a permit. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently disagreed, saying San Diego's policy is unconstitutional.
Chuck Michel is West Coast counsel for the National Rifle Association.
CHUCK MICHEL: They recognized that the Second Amendment is something that applies to everyone, not just a few individuals with some kind of a special need. It's not a special privilege. It's not a privilege. It's a right.
SIEGLER: For Michel, who represented the plaintiffs in this case, it comes down to this: If a person tells the sheriff he needs a concealed carry permit for self-defense, then the sheriff should give him one unless there's some compelling reason not to - like a criminal record.
MICHEL: That's what all this litigation is about - just whether or not we're going to have a Second Amendment that means something. Or a Second Amendment that can be basically be put in a box and will do very, very little to keep states from infringing on it.
SIEGLER: California's Attorney General and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have asked that the case be considered by the full Ninth Circuit. Their petition is pending.
Charlie Blek is president of a local Southern California chapter of the Brady Campaign.
CHARLIE BLEK: I'm not comfortable going into a mall knowing that anybody there for any reason could have a concealed weapon on their person. That doesn't make me feel safer and I'm sure that doesn't make the vast population here in our county feel safer.
SIEGLER: Twenty years ago, Blek's son was shot and killed during an armed robbery. And since, he's lobbied heavily for legislation restricting guns in urban areas of California and nationally. He says sheriffs need that extra layer of power to deny concealed carry permits. And the current ruling sets a bad precedent.
BLEK: By doing this we are robbing them of their particular discretion to help make our communities safer.
SIEGLER: The San Diego case is one of several making its way through the courts here. And it's gaining national attention. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld local restrictions on concealed carry permits in a case in New York. And these conflicting rulings could be a sign that the Supreme Court will weigh in.
ERWIN CHEMERINSKY: To this point, the United States Supreme Court has said only that people have a Second Amendment right to have guns in their home for the sake of security.
SIEGLER: Erwin Chemerinksy is dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School.
CHEMERINSKY: One unresolved question is whether people have a right to have guns outside the home for the sake of security.
SIEGLER: For now, there are a lot of unresolved questions about the Ninth Circuit ruling in the San Diego case and whether it may or may not apply across California. In San Diego, everything is on hold while the sheriff there waits to see whether the ruling becomes final. Next door, in Orange County, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has decided to start easing restrictions.
SHERIFF SANDRA HUTCHENS: We have about 1200 to date.
SIEGLER: Twelve hundred applications for new concealed carry permits in Orange County since the ruling came down last month. The sheriff's office has had to hire extra staff to process all these applications. But it's not as if everyone who applies will automatically get a permit. Hutchens says they still have to pass background checks and take firearms safety training. She says she's trying to strike a balance on a heated political issue, concealed carry weapons.
HUTCHENS: To me it's not about my personal opinion on, you know, whether people should have CCWs or not. It's about what the law says.
SIEGLER: The full Ninth Circuit has not yet said whether it will consider the San Diego case.
Kirk Siegler, NPR News.