A federal appeals court decided Wednesday that California has no legal right to challenge a ruling that prevents counties from imposing strict requirements on carrying concealed weapons in public.
The decision was another victory for gun rights advocates, but it may not be the last word. The state can appeal. If the state and other groups ultimately lose, counties throughout California will be required to issue permits for concealed weapons to residents who meet background checks and want the weapons for self protection.
In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an attempt by Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, a gun control group and law enforcement associations to intervene in a case that struck down San Diego County's policy of tightly restricting the carrying of concealed guns.
The panel that issued Wednesday's decision was the same one that ruled 2-1 in February in favor of gun owners.
State law permits county law enforcement agencies to set rules that limit permits for concealed guns, but the 9th Circuit panel said the rules should make it possible for any law-abiding residents to carry guns.
The state and the advocacy groups tried to intervene after San Diego Sheriff William D. Gore decided he would not appeal the February ruling.
But Judges Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain and Consuelo M. Callahan — considered the most conservative jurists in the circuit -- said Wednesday that their ruling did not question the constitutionality of a state law, only the way San Diego County chose to regulate guns.
But legal analysts said February's ruling, if upheld, would lead to relaxed requirements statewide for carrying concealed guns.
"That the opinion primarily addressed state regulation of handguns could hardly be clearer," wrote Judge Sidney R. Thomas, who dissented in the February decision.
The state may ask the 9th Circuit panel to reconsider the decision or ask an 11-member panel to allow it to intervene.
A spokesman for Harris said her office was still reviewing the decision.
Gun owners and Harris are on opposite sides of the case, but the gun lobby did not strongly fight California's attempt to appeal the February ruling. Gun groups think they can win in the U.S. Supreme Court and would like the case to reach the high court.
"The attorney general can now decide whether the … case ends here," said Chuck Michel, a lawyer who represented gun owners in the case.
Jonathan Lowy, director of legal action for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said his group believes the court misinterpreted the law when it denied California and his group and others the right to challenge the February ruling.
"We are now considering our options," he said.