By Bob Egelko
California's concealed-weapons law, a virtual ban on carrying a hidden handgun on the streets of San Francisco and most other urban areas, survived a U.S. Supreme Court challenge by gun groups Monday.
Over the dissents of Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, the court denied review of a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the century-old law. Thomas said the ruling, now final, treated the constitutional right to bear arms as "a disfavored right."
The law requires private citizens to obtain licenses from local law enforcement offices to carry concealed handguns in public. Although sheriff's offices in rural areas generally grant licenses to those claiming a need to pack a gun for self-defense, license permits in metropolitan areas, including San Francisco and Oakland, are generally denied to private citizens, other than police and security guards.
California is one of eight states that allow local governments to deny concealed weapons permits. The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Constitution's Second Amendment protects the right to possess a gun in the home for self-defense, but has not ruled on whether, or to what extent, the Constitution grants a right to carry firearms in public.
The court's action Monday "promotes public safety, respects Second Amendment rights and values the judgment of sheriffs and police chiefs throughout the state," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office defended the law, said in a statement.
Adam Skaggs, chief counsel for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco gun-control organization, said the action was "the latest in a long line of court decisions rejecting gun-lobby challenges to the smart gun laws that keep our families and communities safe."
Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, which joined the challenge to the state law, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the court's rebuff.
"We hope sometime soon they're going to be willing to take the right Second Amendment case," he said.
In separate cases, Combs' group and the National Rifle Association are challenging recent California laws that ban possession of gun magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges and prohibit sale of semiautomatic weapons with "bullet buttons" that enable speedy reloading.
The California concealed-weapons law was challenged by two men who were denied permits by sheriffs in San Diego and Yolo counties.
A panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 in 2014 that the law violated the right to bear arms in self-defense. But the full appeals court allowed the law to remain in effect, and a larger panel upheld the licensing requirement in a 7-4 ruling last June.
"The Second Amendment does not protect, in any degree, the carrying of concealed firearms by members of the general public," Judge William Fletcher said in the court's majority opinion.
Several other federal appeals courts also have concluded that states can restrict carrying loaded guns in public, but in 2012 an appellate panel struck down an Illinois ban on carrying concealed weapons.
Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, argued in a dissenting opinion Monday that the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling on the rights of law-abiding Americans to possess guns at home implied that they had such rights outside the home as well.
"It is extremely improbable that the (Constitution's) framers understood the Second Amendment to protect little more than carrying a gun from the bedroom to the kitchen," Thomas said. "I do not think we should stand idly by while the state denies its citizens that important right, particularly when their very lives may depend on it."
The case is Peruta vs. California, 16-894.
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