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Opinion: The Supreme Court does public safety a favor by rejecting a California gun-law challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal of California’s tight concealed-carry gun permit rules.
(Associated Press)

It didn’t come as much of a surprise, but it was good news nonetheless that the Supreme Court on Monday finally rejected hearing an appeal in a California case in which gun-rights advocates argued that the 2nd Amendment means that people have a constitutional right to carry a firearm pretty much anywhere.

The case, Peruta vs. California, challenged the state’s laws governing concealed-carry permits, which limit such permits to those who can show “good cause” that they need one, and leaves it up to county sheriffs to implement.

In San Diego, among other counties, sheriffs have drawn a hard line, requiring would-be gun-toters to establish that they face a real threat of attack — someone who has obtained a domestic-violence restraining order, or a business person carrying large amounts of cash, etc. — before granting a permit. It’s a reasonably high hurdle.

The challenge was rooted in the Supreme Court’s controversial 2008 Heller decision (The Times editorial board thought it was wrongly decided) that the 2nd Amendment established an individual right to own a firearm in the home for self-protection.

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In writing that decision, the late Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the right to bear arms is not absolute and that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Gun-rights advocates have sought since then to get the court to broaden the 2nd Amendment, challenging local and state regulations and laws targeting such things as large-capacity ammunition magazines, assault-style rifles and, here in California, establishing high hurdles for receiving concealed-carry permits. Notably, the Supreme Court has rejected a number of such appeals, content to let local jurisdictions set the limits.

The Supreme Court’s reticence to involve itself further doesn’t mean folks who believe in tighter gun controls can rest easy. A number of states don’t require permits to carry firearms either openly or concealed, and the National Rifle Assn. is pushing to expand those ranks — and also is pushing federal legislation that would require states to recognize the concealed-carry permits issued by other states.

That would be a race to the bottom. Under the proposals, states like California, with its relatively strict laws on concealed carry, would have to respect permits issued by other states, much like it does driver’s licenses, as the backers frame the issue.

The Supreme Court has rejected a number of such appeals, content to let local jurisdictions set the limits.

But a permit to carry a gun is different than a permit to drive a car — the states all have similar motor vehicle laws, and training and permitting procedures. When it comes to firearms, the differences can be significant — beginning with the 11 states that don’t require a permit at all as long as the carrier is legally allowed to have a gun (not a felon, etc.).

Under a federal reciprocity law, California would then have to defer to other states’ rules on limiting who can walk around with a handgun tucked out of sight. The measures — one version in the House and a slightly different version in the Senate — currently are stalled at the committee level. Congress, fortunately, can only deal with one lame-brained idea, so isn’t likely to turn its attention to the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act until it clears away whatever mess is left after trying to undo Obamacare and revise the tax codes. But it remains an issue to watch.

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Meanwhile, the decision to leave the California concealed-carry laws alone is a win for public safety, and for those who believe society would be better off with fewer guns — both in the home and on the street.

Scott.Martelle@LATimes.com

Follow my posts and re-tweets at @smartelle on Twitter


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