A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down a San Diego law Thursday that restricted the concealed carry of firearms except in cases where an individual could prove they were in exceptional danger.
In a 2-1 decision, the panel found that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects not only the right of individuals to own guns but also the right to carry them for the purposes of self-defense.
"Carrying weapons in public for the lawful purpose of self defense is a central component of the right to bear arms," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, a Reagan appointee, wrote in the majority opinion.
The court found San Diego's restrictions on concealed carry unreasonably burdensome, agreeing with the plaintiffs, five San Diego residents who were either denied concealed-carry licenses or did not apply because they did not meet the requirements, that simple self-defense was "good cause" enough to obtain a concealed carry license.
Because California regulates the open carry of firearms to only a few exceptional cases, such as retired law enforcement officers, the state must allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms, the court wrote in its decision.
State law does permit concealed carry for persons who are of "good moral character," complete a required training course, and show "good cause" for seeking the permit, according to the court.
The state leaves the permitting process and definition of "good cause" up to local governments, but the court found that San Diego's definition was unconstitutionally narrow.
The court cited two recent landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in making its decision. The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the right to bear arms applies to individuals, as opposed to only state-run militias, and concluded in 2010 that the right can be enforced against state and local governments.
Thursday's 9th Circuit decision argued that the precedent set in those two cases means that California must allow law-abiding citizens the option to carry firearms outside the home for the purposes of self-defense, whether by allowing open or concealed carry.
The decision "upends the entire California firearm regulatory scheme," Judge Sidney Thomas, a Clinton appointee, wrote in his dissent to Thursday's ruling.
The decision delivers a "needless, sweeping judicial blow to the public safety discretion invested in local law enforcement officers and to California's carefully constructed firearm regulatory scheme," Thomas wrote.