California generally prohibits the open or concealed carriage of a handgun, whether loaded or unloaded, in public locations. Nonetheless, an individual may apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon in the city or county in which he or she works or resides. To obtain a license, the applicant must demonstrate "good moral character," complete a specified training course and establish "good cause."
California law delegates to each city and county the power to issue a written policy setting forth the procedures for obtaining a concealed-carry license. San Diego County has such a policy. The power to grant concealed-carry licenses in San Diego County is vested in the county sheriff's department. Since 1999, the sheriff's department has required all applicants to "provide supporting documentation" in order to demonstrate good cause. The documentation is discussed with each applicant to determine whether he or she can show a sufficiently pressing need for self-protection. If the applicant cannot demonstrate circumstances that distinguish his or her from the mainstream, he or she will not qualify for a concealed-carry permit.
San Diego County residents Edward Peruta, Michelle Laxson, James Dodd, Leslie Buncher and Mark Cleary were either denied concealed-carry licenses because they could not establish good cause or decided not to apply because they were confident they could not establish good cause. Peruta sued the County and it's Sheriff, William Gore, and requested injunctive relief from the enforcement of the County's interpretation of "good cause" as set forth in the policy. Peruta argued that by denying him the ability to carry a loaded handgun for self-defense, the County infringed on his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.
The district court granted the County's motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that California's "important and substantial interest in public safety" trumped Peruta's allegedly burdened Second Amendment interest. Peruta appealed.
On appeal, Peruta again asserted that by defining "good cause" in San Diego County's permitting scheme to exclude a general desire to carry for self-defense, the County impermissibly burdens their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Ninth Circuit turned to Supreme Court precedent. First, the Ninth Circuit determined that the Second Amendment codified a "pre-existing, individual right" to keep and bear arms. Next, the Ninth Circuit, again depending upon Supreme Court precedent, held that the Second Amendment is "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition." However, the Ninth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court had not previously addressed the right to bear arms outside the home.
The Ninth Circuit then determined that the right to "bear" arms is not limited to carrying arms within the home. Indeed, the Ninth Circuit stated that the risk of coming across a confrontation is not limited to the home. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the Second Amendment secures a right to carry a firearm outside the home.
Next, the Ninth Circuit considered whether San Diego County's "good cause" permitting requirement "infringes" on the right to carry a firearm outside the home. The Court stated that concealed carry is acceptable with a proper permit and that even without a permit, it is sanctioned for particular groups such as peace officers, retired peace officers, military personnel, etc. The Court then noted that in San Diego County, an individual's concern for their own personal safety does not satisfy "good cause" for issuance of the permit. The Court noted that the exceptions for peace officers or military personnel do not protect the average, law-abiding citizen. Since, according to the Court, San Diego County's requirement that a person show sufficiently pressing need for self-protection before being permitted to carry a concealed weapon, the requirement infringed on the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the case was remanded back to the trial court.
The Peruta decision has triggered a substantial amount of controversy. Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the Ninth Circuit to review and reverse its decision. Law enforcement agencies meanwhile may have lost the ability to determine who can carry a concealed firearm. In addition the Peruta decision has triggered a wave of applications for concealed weapon permits. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court may soon consider the constitutionality of a similar issue in New Jersey. This case will likely continue to have repercussions for some time to come.
Peruta v. County of San Diego (9th Cir. 2014) 742 F.3d 1144.