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.”
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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 else about what other laws may violate the Second Amendment. In the lower courts, very few challenges to gun control laws since the Heller decision have succeeded.
But legal experts say that 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 question has divided the lower courts. The federal appeals court in Chicago struck down an Illinois law that banned carrying guns in public, while federal appeals courts in New York, Philadelphia and Richmond, Va., upheld laws that placed limits on permits to carry guns outside the home. The Supreme Court turned away appeals in all three cases.
The California case, Peruta v. California, 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.”
In dissent, Judge Consuelo M. Callahan said the majority had engaged in a kind of shell game.
“In the context of California’s choice to prohibit open carry,” she wrote, “the counties’ policies regarding the licensing of concealed carry are tantamount to complete bans on the Second Amendment right to bear arms outside the home for self-defense, and are therefore unconstitutional.”
In urging the justices to hear their appeal, the challengers said that “this case presents perhaps the single most important unresolved Second Amendment question,” that of whether it “secures an individual right to bear arms for self-defense outside the home.”