Speaking to a gun rights group last spring, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas asked his audience to take a moment and think about their friends, family members and acquaintances.
“Should they all have a loaded gun all the time?” he asked. “I have some family members who shouldn't.”
California law accounts for those who shouldn't be packing at all times by authorizing sheriffs and police chiefs to determine who is allowed to carry a concealed weapon in public. To qualify for a permit, the law says applicants must be “of good moral character,” must have “completed a course of training” and must have “good cause.”
Those standards hardly qualify as onerous. But they were too much for a federal appeals panel, which shot down California's law in a ruling last week that identified Second Amendment rights broader than any previously recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable firearm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense,” Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote for a 2-1 majority that, if it's upheld, would allow millions of people to carry guns out of a generalized concern for their personal safety.
Fear is not “good cause,” and frightened people with deadly weapons won't enhance anyone's safety.
Fortunately, this ruling isn't the last word.
The decision is on hold pending a possible review by a larger panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case eventually could be appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2008 that people have a constitutional right to keep firearms at home for self-defense.
O'Scannlain concluded that that right “could not rationally be limited to the home.” A federal appeals court reached a similar conclusion last year in overturning Illinois' blanket ban on concealed weapons in public. But other federal courts upheld laws similar to California's in New York, New Jersey and Maryland.