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March 25, 2014
Viewpoints: Dangerous court decision on concealed guns must be overturned

RBGunshops5.JPG(March 25 - By Catherine Stefani, Special to The Bee)

As a mother of two children, nothing is more important than ensuring my son and daughter grow up in a safe community. That's why, after 26 innocent students and teachers died in the senseless tragedy in Newtown, Conn., I could no longer remain silent. I joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to fight for a future in which guns no longer kill 33 Americans - including eight children and teens - every day.

Unfortunately, two federal judges recently made it a lot more difficult to keep our families and communities safe from gun violence. They ruled to allow millions of people in crowded cities and suburban towns across California to carry hidden, loaded guns in public - legally.

Thankfully, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto have asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take a second look at their decision. For the safety of families and communities across the state, the 9th Circuit should do just that - and it should reverse the dangerous ruling.

Under California law, it's illegal to carry a concealed, loaded weapon without a permit. Permits are issued by city police chiefs and county sheriffs. To get one, applicants must complete a gun safety course, demonstrate "good moral character" and establish a "good cause."

Like their counterparts across the state, the sheriffs in San Diego and Yolo counties determined that to have "good cause" for carrying a hidden gun in public, an applicant had to face some danger greater than that faced by an average member of the public. This common-sense standard allows someone with a legitimate need for a concealed weapon to carry one - say, a store owner who carries cash to the bank every night. But permits aren't given out willy-nilly to anyone who asks.

The San Diego and Yolo policies protect public safety, rather than undermining it. The two judges struck them down.

Under the judges' radical decision, law enforcement officials across California would lose the discretion to deny permits to people who don't have legitimate reasons to carry concealed weapons in public. That would flood our communities with loaded guns, and it would mean that law enforcement officials are powerless to treat hidden guns differently in densely populated Los Angeles than in rural Mono County.

Even a glance at recent headlines reminds us what happens when guns in public are the rule instead of the exception. Eighteen people shot in a single weekend in Sacramento County. A 10-year-old boy and his mom wounded in Los Angeles when gunshots strike the bus they're riding on. A man gunned down for texting in a movie theater. An unarmed teen shot dead for listening to loud music. On and on it goes.

The judges who tossed out the San Diego and Yolo County concealed carry policies threaten to make these tragedies even more frequent. They brushed aside the public safety concerns that justify regulating concealed carry and ruled that the Second Amendment gives anyone who wants to carry a hidden weapon in public for self-defense the right to do so.

Their view of the law is a radical departure from the judicial mainstream. Just six years ago, in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized that American courts have always recognized that "prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment." Three other federal circuit courts recently upheld nearly identical permitting rules in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

If allowed to take effect, the judges' decision would open the floodgates to guns on California streets. It would render vital concealed carry rules in more than a half dozen other states constitutionally suspect. And it would call into question the long-standing recognition that different concealed carry rules for crowded cities and sparsely populated rural areas are constitutional - and entirely appropriate.

Thankfully, the ruling is on hold while all the judges on the 9th Circuit decide whether to review it.

Whether law enforcement has the discretion to enforce concealed weapon rules appropriate to local conditions is a question of exceptional public importance - and it's a question two judges just got 100 percent wrong. Now it's up to the 9th Circuit to correct this egregious mistake and reaffirm the importance of common sense gun rules. The safety of our children and communities is at stake.

Catherine Stefani is the California chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.