California Attorney General Kamala Harris asked a federal appeals court Thursday to review and reverse its recent decision that declared unconstitutional the restrictions many counties use to limit the right to carry a concealed handgun.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore -- whose policy the lawsuit had challenged -- announced last week that he would not appeal the three-judge panel's Feb. 13 ruling. So Harris on Thursday moved to intervene in the case, asking that the 2-1 ruling be reviewed by an 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Harris' office noted Thursday that if the ruling is allowed to take effect, sheriffs all over California -- including the Bay Area, where counties are rather tightfisted about concealed-carry permits -- could be required to issue permits based on nothing more than the applicant's stated wish to carry a gun for self-defense.
"Local law enforcement must be able to use their discretion to determine who can carry a concealed weapon," she said in a news release. "I will do everything possible to restore law enforcement's authority to protect public safety, and so today am calling on the court to review and reverse its decision."
Chuck Michel, West Coast counsel for the National Rifle Association, said Harris repeatedly was invited to take part in the case both by San Diego County and by those who sued it, but she declined. He also noted that she has had the state dismissed as a defendant in similar cases in other counties.
"But now that her ideological ox is being gored, she wants to step in and take the state authority away from the sheriff," Michel said Thursday. "The authority to issue or not issue licenses to carry under state law rests with the sheriff -- he acts for the state of California in this case, not the Attorney General's Office. She can't step in here and bigfoot the state actor with the authority to make that decision."
By state law, requirements for concealed-carry permits include demonstrating "good moral character," taking a training course and establishing "good cause." But it's up to county sheriffs to set policies for what constitutes "good cause," and different sheriffs have set a wide range of policies.
This lawsuit, filed by several San Diego County residents and the California Rifle and Pistol Association, challenged the county's more restrictive interpretation, requiring "a set of circumstances that distinguish the applicant from the mainstream and causes him or her to be placed in harm's way." Concern for "one's personal safety alone is not considered good cause," the county's policy says. Applicants have had to provide documentation -- such as restraining orders, letters from law enforcement or prosecutors -- to prove a special need for self-protection.
A federal district judge had ruled that's OK in order to protect public safety, but the appeals court reversed that ruling earlier this month, finding that the county's policy "impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense."
Michel said it's possible that more liberal 9th Circuit judges would have sought to review the case without a county or state request. Either way, the call for a vote on whether to review the case must happen by Friday, March 7, he said.