SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gun owners and advocates scored another big legal victory Wednesday in their quest to loosen restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in California.
A divided federal appeals court kept in place a ruling requiring the San Diego County sheriff to issue concealed weapon permits to most law-abiding citizens who apply for one, a standard that all California sheriffs and police chiefs must also follow.
Police and county sheriffs have the authority in California to issue concealed weapons permits. The applications process has, for the most part, been left to sheriffs.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February struck down the San Diego sheriff's requirement that applicants must show a "good cause" beyond self-defense to obtain a permit as an infringement of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.
The 9th Circuit said requiring applicants to show they were in immediate danger or otherwise had a "good cause" for a permit was too restrictive. If the ruling stands, concealed weapon permit applicants will still have to pass background checks and undergo training.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris asked the court to reconsider that ruling after the San Diego sheriff declined to appeal. Harris argues that loosening concealed weapon permitting standards and allowing more people to carry guns threatens law enforcement officials and endangers the public.
On Wednesday, the same three-judge panel by the same 2-1 vote barred Harris and the advocacy group the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence from intervening in the case. The court said Harris and the Brady Center waited too long to try to interject themselves in a case originally filed in 2009.
C.D. Michel, a guns right lawyer who often represents the National Rifle Association, said the ruling striking down the "good cause" requirement "was a long overdue recognition of the right to obtain a license to carry a firearm to defend yourself."
David Beltran, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said it was reviewing the 9th Circuit ruling to determine its next step, which could include a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The attorney general has also asked the 9th Circuit to reconsider a separate, but similar, ruling that struck down Yolo County's concealed weapons policy as too restrictive. The 9th Circuit hasn't ruled on that matter.
After the February ruling, concealed weapon applications spiked and counties have reacted differently.
Orange County has issued hundreds of concealed weapons since February without requiring "good cause," but other counties such as San Diego have been waiting for a final court ruling before approving applications listing only self-defense as a reason for wanting to carry a concealed weapon.
San Diego Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Janet Caldwell said the ruling Wednesday was being reviewed.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, was also barred from intervening in the case. Center director Jonathan Lowy said his organization is also considering its next steps.
Legal experts said the initial ruling by the appeals court relied heavily on a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that law-abiding citizens have a fundamental right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense. The U.S. Supreme Court didn't address whether that right extended outside the home. The 9th Circuit panel concluded it did.
"A right to bear arms is no right at all if you need to demonstrate a need to carry that firearm which satisfies the police," said Joyce Malcolm, a law professor at George Mason University law school.