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A sane gun law is under fire in San Diego

A case over concealed weapons permits in San Diego County deserves deeper scrutiny

Under California law, counties have the option of restricting permits to carry concealed weapons in public to those applicants who establish a “good cause” for doing so. Or they did until earlier this year, when a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals weakened the law. Now, the same panel has ruled that the state of California has no standing to appeal the initial decision, a questionable call in a case that deserves deeper scrutiny.

Under the provisions of the state law, San Diego County decided to limit concealed weapons permits. County residents and gun-rights groups sued, leading to the appellate panel's ruling that the county regulations violated the 2nd Amendment's protection of “some sort of carry for self-defense outside the home.” Unfortunately, San Diego Sheriff William D. Gore, the original defendant, declined to appeal that ruling. So California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and several other law-enforcement groups sought permission to take over the appeal. The same three-member appellate panel rejected that request.

Both decisions are regrettable. In the original case, the panel said San Diego's permit regulations conflicted with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 Heller decision, in which the court for the first time held that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to gun ownership in the home (a decision this page criticized). Notably, that decision did not explicitly extend recognition of that right outside the home, as the 9th Circuit did. So there are legitimate grounds for appealing the panel's interpretation of — in reality, broadening of — the rights recognized by the Heller case.

In rejecting the efforts of the new would-be appellants to intervene, the panel said that its initial ruling pertained only to San Diego's gun permits, thus the state and other groups had no legal standing to pick up the fight. But the initial ruling drives a stake into the heart of the state law that gave permitting power to the counties. So the state clearly has an interest in the case. A second factor in the ruling on standing: The new appellants entered the case too late. But the state believed that its interests were already being represented by the San Diego County sheriff's appeal and stepped forward when the county stepped aside.

At last report, Harris was contemplating an appeal of the ruling on her standing in the case, and we encourage her to do so. To people outside the courts, this might seem like a fight over minutiae, but the stakes are high. This challenge to a sane gun law should not be left twisting in the legal wind.

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