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Supreme Court Turns Down Case on Carrying Guns in Public

Concealed carry outdoors

Concealed carry outdoors

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a California law that places strict limits on carrying guns in public.

As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for deciding not to hear the case. The court has turned away numerous Second Amendment cases in recent years, to the frustration of gun-rights groups and some conservative justices.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, dissented. The court’s refusal to hear the case, Justice Thomas wrote, “reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right.”

“For those of us who work in marbled halls, guarded constantly by a vigilant and dedicated police force,” Justice Thomas wrote, “the guarantees of the Second Amendment might seem antiquated and superfluous. But the framers made a clear choice: They reserved to all Americans the right to bear arms for self-defense. I do not think we should stand by idly while a state denies its citizens that right, particularly when their very lives may depend on it.”

The court has seldom addressed the scope of Second Amendment rights. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep guns at home for self-defense.

Since then, the court has said little about what other laws may violate the Second Amendment. In the lower courts, few challenges to gun control laws since the Heller decision have succeeded.

But legal experts say it is only a matter of time before the court confronts the question of whether and how the Second Amendment applies outside the home.

The case, Peruta v. California, No. 16-894, concerned a state law that essentially bans carrying guns openly in public and allows carrying concealed weapons only if applicants can demonstrate good cause. The challengers, several individuals and gun-rights groups, sued San Diego and Yolo Counties, saying that officials there interpreted good cause so narrowly as to make it impossible to carry guns in public for self-defense.

San Diego, for instance, defined good cause to require proof that the applicant was “in harm’s way,” adding that “simply fearing for one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause.”

In a 7-to-4 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said there was no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed weapon.

“Based on the overwhelming consensus of historical sources, we conclude that the protection of the Second Amendment — whatever the scope of that protection may be — simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public,” Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority.

The court did not decide whether the Second Amendment allows leeway for states to ban carrying guns in public.

“There may or may not be a Second Amendment right for a member of the general public to carry a firearm openly in public,” Judge Fletcher wrote. “The Supreme Court has not answered that question, and we do not answer it here.”

The Supreme Court also turned down a second case on gun rights, this one about the constitutionality of a law prohibiting people convicted of serious crimes from owning guns. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor noted that they would have granted review, but they gave no reasons.

The case concerned a federal law that prohibits possessing a gun after a conviction of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” The law has an exception for “any state offense classified by the laws of the state as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.”

In separate cases, two Pennsylvania men said the law was unconstitutional as applied to them.

They were convicted of minor and nonviolent crimes decades ago, they said, and received no jail time. Though the laws under which they were convicted allowed for the theoretical possibility of sentences longer than two years, they argued, they should not have been stripped of a constitutional right for that reason.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled in their favor.

In urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, Sessions v. Binderup, No. 16-847, the Justice Department said the appeals court had “opened the courthouse doors to an untold number of future challenges by other individuals based on their own particular offenses, histories and personal circumstances.”

“The decision below,” the government’s brief said, “threatens public safety and poses serious problems of judicial administration because it requires judges to make ad hoc assessments of the risks of allowing convicted felons to possess firearms — a high-stakes task that Congress has already determined cannot be performed with sufficient reliability, and one for which the judiciary is particularly ill suited.”

This article was originally published at the NY Times.