Eleven judges of a federal appeals court heard arguments in San Francisco Tuesday but did not indicate how they will rule on whether California counties can limit law-abiding citizens in carrying concealed guns.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel is reviewing two cases in which gun owners in San Diego and Yolo counties claim restrictions set by their sheriffs violate their federal constitutional right to bear arms.
In both counties, the sheriffs require individuals to show that they are in exceptional danger to obtain a concealed-carry permit.
The policies stem from the state's concealed-carry law, which provides that citizens must be of good moral character and have "good cause" to obtain a permit.
The law allows individual counties, through their sheriffs, to set the policy on what "good cause" is. County policies vary from granting permits to law-abiding citizens on demand to establishing restrictions such as those in San Diego and Yolo counties.
"We are asking for a right to have some mechanism for a right to self-defense outside the home," Paul Clement, a lawyer for the gun owners, told the court.
The gun owners contend that because another California law greatly restricts the open carrying of guns, the constitutional Second Amendment right to bear arms would be "effectively destroyed" in California if concealed carrying is blocked.
The concealed-carry lawsuits are among a series of cases in which federal courts around the nation are being asked to clarify the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment in the wake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008.
In that decision, known as the Heller case, the high court said by a 5-4 vote that the right to bear arms applies to individual citizens and specifically affirmed the right to possess guns for self-defense in the home. But the court said some regulation was permitted, and left unclear what limits might be acceptable outside the home.
California Solicitor General Edward DuMont told the appeals panel, "The Supreme Court has not given us guidance" on rights outside the home. He argued the California law was supported by "a lot of history of the regulation of carrying handguns" by cities and counties in the state.
"Conditions may vary from place to place and a local sheriff is aware of local conditions," DuMont argued.
The circuit court granted a rare rehearing by an 11-judge panel after the state appealed a decision in which a three-judge panel struck down the San Diego County restrictions by a 2-1 vote in February 2014. The same panel unanimously overturned the Yolo County rule a month later, saying it was bound by the previous decision.
The panel has no deadline for issuing a written decision.
Three other regional federal appeals courts in New York, Philadelphia and Richmond have upheld concealed-carry regulations.