Is a person’s fear of being attacked on the street a good enough reason to allow him or her to carry a gun in public?
An answer to that question could come soon. The legal justification for concealed weapons is at the core of a federal lawsuit that could redefine who gets to carry a gun in public. The case, Peruta v. San Diego County, targets the “good cause” requirement that California applicants for a concealed carry permit must meet. To date, five U.S. appeals courts have issued rulings on concealed carry cases.
Here’s a look at each one, starting with the Peruta case, which will be reheard Tuesday in San Francisco.
9th Circuit: Edward Peruta v. County of San Diego
Edward Peruta owns a company that sends freelance videographers to film dramatic crime scene footage. He applied in 2009 for a concealed carry permit to bring a gun while he traveled with his wife in their RV, “carrying large sums of cash, valuables and equipment, which makes them a target for violent crimes,” Peruta’s attorney later would write when he filed a lawsuit against the local sheriff. Peruta’s application was denied.
In the 9th Circuit’s initial ruling on the case in February 2014, it struck down the “good cause” requirement – defined by the county sheriff as a “set of circumstances that distinguish the applicant from the mainstream and causes him or her to be placed in harm’s way” – as unconstitutional.
Between San Diego’s strict requirements to get a permit for a concealed gun and the state’s blanket ban on the open carry of guns, an average citizen couldn’t carry a gun for self-defense. This “impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense,” a divided three-judge panel found when it ruled in favor of Peruta’s right to carry a gun.
Since then, the number of concealed carry applications has spiked around the state. Some county officials, such as Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, agreed to temporarily process applications without requiring gun owners to demonstrate good cause. Others are waiting until the 9th Circuit issues a final ruling in the Peruta case.
More than a year after Peruta’s narrow victory, judges voted to rehear the case in an en banc hearing, typically reserved for the most complicated and significant cases. The list of organizations that have filed friend of the court briefs in the case is one indication of its significance. Among them: Everytown for Gun Safety, the National Rifle Association, the state of Alabama, a gun and gay rights group called the Pink Pistols and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
2nd Circuit: Alan Kachalsky v. County of Westchester
Alan Kachalsky’s 2008 application to carry a concealed gun was denied for the same reason many applicants before him were: He failed to “demonstrate a need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general public.” Kachalsky, a lawyer in upstate New York, filed a lawsuit in response, calling the state’s permit restrictions “an arbitrary licensing regime.” He was armed with the powerful legal backing of the gun rights group Second Amendment Foundation and attorney Alan Gura, who successfully argued for the plaintiffs in each of the last two Second Amendment cases heard by the Supreme Court.
Kachalsky wasn’t as fortunate. He lost when the 2nd Circuit Court upheld New York’s requirement that applicants demonstrate “proper cause” to carry a gun in public. Kachalsky contended that he didn’t need to show proper cause, because “we live in a world where sporadic random violence might at any moment place one in a position where one needs to defend oneself or possibly others.”
Judges were bombarded from both sides with contradictory studies on gun violence and accessibility to guns. The history of this debate is particularly rich in New York, where restrictions on handgun possession date back more than 100 years. Some studies found that widespread access to guns increased the likelihood of deadly crimes, while others found no link between gun ownership and violent crime.
In the end, the court ruled in favor of the state’s discretion in issuing permits, noting: “It is the legislature’s job, not ours, to weigh conflicting evidence and make policy judgments.”
3rd Circuit: John M. Drake v. Hon. Rudolph A. Filko
John Drake owns an ATM business and sometimes carries a lot of cash. The New Jersey man said he needed to have a handgun on him for personal protection. Drake holds concealed carry permits from Florida and Utah, which are recognized by more than three dozen states around the country. But his home state of New Jersey isn’t one of them.
New Jersey’s law defines a “justifiable need” as an urgent need for self-protection because of a threat of violence or previous attacks. To prove this, applicants must provide documented evidence of previous threats or attacks. The law was intended to reduce gun violence and accidental use of handguns.
Drake lost his case in 2013 when the 3rd Circuit upheld New Jersey’s law. Ultimately, the court found that the regulations did not infringe on a person’s Second Amendment rights.
While the court reached the same conclusion as the 2nd and 4th Circuits, it did so with little evidence from the state to show how its restrictions made residents safer. Some experts believe this leaves the decision vulnerable to future challenges, though none appear imminent.
4th Circuit: Raymond Woollard v. Denis Gallagher
After his son-in-law broke into Raymond Woollard’s rural Maryland home and attempted to wrestle away the shotgun he kept in his bedroom, Woollard got what he wanted: a permit from the state police allowing him to carry a concealed handgun.
Woollard carried his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver for years following the break-in. But in 2009, Woollard’s request to renew his application was denied by the state, which argued he was no longer subject to threats or harassment and therefore didn’t need to carry a gun for protection.
Woollard sued the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board, challenging the requirement that applicants for a concealed carry permit demonstrate a “good and substantial reason” to carry a gun in public. Similar to laws in other states, Maryland restricts access to concealed carry permits in the interest of public safety.
Unlike in the New Jersey case, however, state lawmakers provided evidence to support this rationale when enacting the restrictions. This included data showing an increase in violent crimes committed with a handgun, which the state argued warranted tighter control of concealed carry permits “to preserve the peace and tranquility of the State and to protect the rights and liberties of the public.”
Woollard lost on appeal when the 4th Circuit agreed with the state and found that its strict permitting requirements ensured “access to handgun permits for those who need them while preventing a greater-than-necessary proliferation of handguns in public places.”
7th Circuit: Michael Moore v. Lisa Madigan
Michael Moore believed he should be allowed to carry a concealed gun after his job no longer required him to do so. A retired corrections officer and former sheriff’s deputy in Illinois, Moore said he wanted to have his gun with him should he cross paths with convicted criminals who spent time in jail under his watch.
But he couldn’t in Illinois, which at the time was the last state in the country to ban carrying concealed guns in public. So Moore reached out to Alan Gura, the Virginia-based attorney who represented Alan Kachalsky. Gura filed a lawsuit on Moore’s behalf against the state’s attorney general.
Like the Kachalsky case in the 2nd Circuit before it, lawyers for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan presented studies in court to demonstrate a connection between laws limiting access to guns and decreased rates of violent crime. Judges found this evidence to be unclear, ruling that the state failed to justify its ban on concealed weapons.
“The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in a 2-1 majority decision. “The theoretical and empirical evidence (which overall is inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense.”
The court ordered the Illinois Legislature to “impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public.” It did in 2013, making the Illinois the final state to allow carrying a concealed gun.
This story was edited by Robert Salladay and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.