Appeals courts agree on concealed weapons ban restrictions

(Ibro Palic/Flickr)

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court's decision upholding California's restrictions on carrying concealed weapons gives lawyers a fourth chance to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court's attention on a subject directly affecting eight states and the nation's capital.

Thursday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a law requiring gun applicants to show good reason beyond mere safety. It was consistent with rulings since 2012 in three other circuits upholding similar restrictions in New York, Maryland and New Jersey. The Supreme Court did not take up the issue after those rulings. Alan Gura, an Alexandria, Virginia-based lawyer, has represented plaintiffs in each case. He did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

UCLA Law School professor Eugene Volokh said he thinks there is less chance that the high court will hear the California case than the three that came before it because there are currently only eight justices.

The Supreme Court has never addressed directly whether an individual has the right to bear arms outside the home for the purpose of self-defense.

"It's an important question, the most important of the remaining questions on gun rights" that the Supreme Court has not addressed, Volokh said.

He predicted that the Supreme Court might eventually take up the subject if an appeals court in Washington, D.C., strikes down the city's strict gun law. Two lower court judges have issued conflicting opinions about the constitutionality of the district's law requiring that a firearm applicant demonstrate a "good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property" before being licensed to carry a pistol.

James B. Jacobs, a professor of constitutional law at New York University School of Law, noted the Supreme Court had decided two previous gun cases by a 5-4 vote. He said the court might be reluctant to tackle the issue until there are nine justices.

David Kopel, an adjunct professor of constitutional law at Denver University, agreed it was unlikely that the Supreme Court would address the issue now.

"It's less an issue of laws than their application," Kopel said, noting that there were substantial differences in how the laws are carried out within the states where licensing laws are strict.

He said Hawaii makes it most difficult to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon while New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C., are close behind with strict laws.

He said it is easier to get permits in some counties of New York and Delaware than in others while the odds of getting a permit can vary widely in Massachusetts. Rhode Island, he said, has two complicated laws pertaining to concealed weapon permits.

In 2012, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the only statewide ban on carrying concealed weapons, in Illinois. But the ruling was not appealed after the court gave state lawmakers the opportunity to change the law to conform with its findings.

The majority of states allow open carry of a handgun such as in a visibly exposed belt holster without a permit.