Orange County has loosened requirements for carrying concealed weapons in public following a pro-gun ruling last week by a federal appeals court, officials said Thursday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 that California counties may no longer require residents who want to carry concealed firearms to demonstrate special, individualized needs for protection. The court majority said law-abiding residents have a 2nd Amendment right to bear a gun in public.
The ruling is not yet final, and if successfully appealed, may never take effect. But Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens announced on the department's website that the county has decided to comply anyway.
"Regardless of what her personal positions are, she feels she needs to abide by what the law is," Lt. Jeff Hallock, a sheriff spokesman, said Thursday.
He said the department has received "a huge influx" of requests for permits to carry concealed guns since the 9th Circuit ruling. He cautioned, though, that the new relaxed rules might be "revisited" if the court decision is appealed or overturned.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department, which handles gun carry permits for the county's cities, will now give residents permits if they simply cite a need for personal safety or self-defense, as long as other conditions are met, the department said. Those conditions include an interview, background check, completion of a firearms training course and a fee.
"I am thrilled that the sheriff has seen the writing on the wall and recognized that Orange County citizens should have the right to choose to carry a firearm to protect themselves," said Chuck Michel, a National Rifle Assn. lawyer who represented gun owners in the 9th Circuit case.
Michel said that he expected other counties and cities "that have been on the fence" about requirements for concealed weapons might follow suit.
Last week's sweeping ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed against San Diego County by gun owners denied permits to carry concealed firearms. San Diego County has said it may appeal the ruling, which could tie up the case for months or more than a year. A similar lawsuit has been pending against Orange County.
Without an appeal, the ruling would become final "in a month or so," Michel said. He said he would like the case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hallock said Orange County now has a backlog of requests for concealed-gun permits, with interviews scheduled into May. He said applicants who have a specific reason for needing a gun should state that in their applications in case the policy changes as a result of future rulings.
California law bans the open carrying of firearms, even when unloaded, and leaves it to cities and counties to decide permit applications for carrying concealed weapons. Many, if not most, counties have relaxed rules that give permits to residents who state a simple need for self-defense.
But urban counties, where most of the state's population lives, generally deny permits unless applicants show they face personal harm. The 9th Circuit panel said that requirement was too restrictive. The two judges who ruled in favor of the gun owners are among the circuit's most conservative, and the decision went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has guaranteed in other 2nd Amendment cases.