The Supreme Court has rejected a major 2nd Amendment challenge to California's strict limits on carrying concealed guns in public.
The justices by a 7-2 vote turned away an appeal from gun rights advocates who contended that most law-abiding gun owners in San Diego, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area were being wrongly denied permits to carry a weapon when they leave home.
The justices let stand a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which held last year that the "2nd Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public."
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, said the court's refusal to hear the appeal "reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the 2nd Amendment as a disfavored right."
The high court's action is sure to be a disappointment to gun-rights advocates, who were cheered by President Trump's appointment of Gorsuch to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
It is the latest of several actions by the court that suggest that although the Constitution protects an individual right to "bear arms," the scope of that right is quite limited.
In a pair of rulings in 2008 and 2010, the justices struck down ordinances in Washington, D.C., and Chicago that banned nearly all private possession of weapons, including the keeping of handguns at home for self-defense.
Since then, however, the court has turned down a series of constitutional challenges to laws and local regulations that prohibit people from carrying guns in public or from buying and owning rapid-fire weapons.
California law says law-abiding owners may obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon if they can show "good cause." This state law is enforced by the county sheriffs. In San Diego, Los Angeles and other urban counties, sheriffs have set a high bar for what qualifies as a "good cause," such as a particular need for protection. "Simply fearing for one's personal safety is not considered good cause," a San Diego official told a judge there.
The case of Peruta vs. California has been closely watched as a test of whether 2nd Amendment rights go beyond the home. A federal district judge upheld San Diego's strict enforcement policy, but in 2014, a 9th Circuit panel struck down the policy as unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision, the panel said the 2nd Amendment protected a right to carry a gun in public.
But last year, the full 9th Circuit reconsidered the issue and rejected this broader view of the 2nd Amendment. Citing English history back to 1541, Judge William Fletcher said the law for centuries had restricted the carrying of concealed firearms without a license.These restrictions were enforced in the American colonies prior to the Constitution, he said.
"Based on the overwhelming consensus of historical sources, we conclude that the protection of the 2nd Amendment — whatever the scope of that protection may be — simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public," he wrote for a 7-4 majority of the appeals court.
In January, former Solicitor Gen. Paul Clement filed an appeal with the high court on behalf of gun owners. He argued that millions of law-abiding gun owners in California and elsewhere were being denied the right to carry a gun in violation of their rights to armed self-defense under the 2nd Amendment.
California Atty Gen. Xavier Becerra called the high court's decision "welcome news for California and gun safety everywhere. It leaves in place an important and common-sense firearm regulation, one that promotes public safety, respects 2nd Amendment rights and values the judgment of sheriffs and police chiefs throughout the state on what works best for their communities."
In a separate but related action on Monday, the justices without comment let stand a ruling from Philadelphia that restored gun-ownership rights to two Pennsylvania men who were convicted decades earlier of misdemeanors. Because the crimes could have sent them to jail for more than a year, they were prohibited from owning a gun under a 1968 federal law. But a federal judge and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the 2nd Amendment, said the men's gun rights should be restored.
The Justice Department had urged the high court to hear Sessions vs. Binderup, but it was turned down for review.
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12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background.
6:55 a.m.: This article was updated with details about a dissent to the action and another gun case.