Gunning for change
Chief sees rush on permits following appellate court’s ruling on concealed weapons
Interest in carrying guns in public mounted the day after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that California’s concealed weapons laws violated the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
“Several people have emailed me and told me they planned to submit an application,” said Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez. As he normally would, Sanchez said, “I told them we would look at them and consider them on a case-by-case basis.”
On Thursday, a three-judge appellate court panel ruled that California counties did not have the right to require applicants to show good cause beyond self-defense before they could receive a concealed-weapon permit. The ruling, which legal experts expect to be finally decided by the US Supreme Court, stopped short of saying police agencies actually should issue such permits to qualified applicants.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in 2011 by several gun owners in San Diego County who were denied permits. They claimed their constitutional rights were denied because they had been adequately trained in weapons use and had passed all background checks.
“Given this requirement [to acquire a permit], the ‘typical’ responsible, law-abiding citizen in San Diego County cannot bear arms in public for self-defense,” wrote Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
“We are not holding that the Second Amendment requires the states to permit concealed carry,” O’Scannlain, wrote in the opinion. “But the Second Amendment does require that the states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home.”
Law enforcement agencies around the state have made such permits difficult to obtain. Sanchez said he has received only one or two such permit applications each year since taking over as chief more than three years ago. Even so, the Pasadena Police Department has not approved a permit for a concealed weapon in more than 20 years, Sanchez said. Most other law enforcement agencies in California are also hesitant to approve concealed weapons permits.
“Gun ownership, whether concealed or otherwise, does not necessarily equate to increased safety or a reduction in vulnerability,” Sanchez said. “The Pasadena Police Department will continue to assess requests on a case-by-case basis for concealed carry.”
According to FOX News, only a few hundred people in Los Angeles County have permits to carry concealed guns. There are about 700 in San Diego County and none in San Francisco County.
Unlike most other states, California has no provisions in its state Constitution guaranteeing residents the right to keep and bear arms. Because the state Constitution does not hold that provision, the state Supreme Court has maintained that the state’s restrictive gun laws, which force residents to pass a written test certified by the state before purchasing a handgun, are constitutional.
Amanda Wilcox of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt on Reagan in March 1981, told the Weekly that the US Supreme Court has already ruled that the right to carry a hidden loaded weapon is limited.
“We feel that this is a decision contrary to decisions in every other court of appeal,” Wilcox said. “We hope it is reviewed and the decision is reversed. The [US] Supreme Court has already ruled that the right of a law-abiding citizen to have an operating handgun in the home is very different than having a hidden loaded gun in public. Certainly that decision allows for regulation of concealed weapons permits, as California does.”
California is one of 11 “may issue” states when it comes to concealed weapons permits, meaning law enforcement officials can issue such permits at their discretion. The other 39 states are considered “shall issue” states and have no restrictive clauses prohibiting concealed weapons permits.
Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said the Ninth Circuit’s decision was a victory for the right to defend oneself.
“No one should have to wait until they are assaulted before they are allowed to exercise their fundamental right of self-defense,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “The US Supreme Court has already affirmed our Constitutional right to Keep Arms, and today, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the right to Bear Arms. Our fundamental, individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms is not limited to the home.”
The ruling could also strike down Assembly Bill 144, authored in 2011 by Democratic former state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge. AB144 made it illegal to carry an unloaded firearm in public.
The legislation, which went into effect on New Year’s Day 2012, resulted in protests throughout California, where people showed up at events and in public with unloaded firearms strapped to their hips. Much was the scene in Old Pasadena at the time the bill was being considered, with gun advocates strolling around the trendy shopping district with pickets and unloaded handguns openly displayed.
“I think it is a stretch to try and connect them,” Portantino said of the ruling and his legislation. “I think the reality is you don’t want unlicensed proliferation in mainstream California,” he said. “During open carry, law enforcement could not even ask to see a permit. They could only ask if the gun was loaded or unloaded. That was a serious problem that needed to be fixed. What we did was the right thing.”
But just as Portantino was authoring AB144, lawsuits were in the works in San Diego, ultimately leading to Thursday’s ruling.
Prior to AB144, California was an “open carry” state that allowed gun owners the right to carry unloaded weapons as long as they were in full view. But AB144 may have inadvertently been the final straw that violated the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
The 1967 Mulford Act outlawed the open carrying of loaded weapons in California. The bill — also known as the Panther Bill — was introduced by Republican legislator Don Mulford to eliminate patrols by the Black Panthers, a militant African-American group that conducted armed patrols in Oakland in the 1960s.
On May 2, 1967, several Black Panther members entered the state Capitol building in Sacramento carrying loaded rifles and shotguns to voice their opposition to Mulford’s legislation. The incident captured national attention.
The Mulford Act, coupled with AB144, and including the policies of many law enforcement agencies prohibiting conceal weapons permits left Californians unable to carry weapon outside of their homes.
Despite all that, Portantino said he expects the decision to be reversed.
“A broader pool of judges will look at it,” Portantino said. “I think that as the conversation gets broader the decision will change.”