Amid gun control debate, 9th Circuit Court says govt can regulate or ban carrying weapons in public

The timing of verdict is significant as it came at a time when the Joe Biden administration is eyeing gun control in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado

                            Amid gun control debate, 9th Circuit Court says govt can regulate or ban carrying weapons in public
(Getty Images)

The old debate over gun control has revived in the wake of two mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder inside a week that left at least 18 people dead. The Joe Biden administration has shown an intent to control gun violence and now, a decision by a california-based federal appeals court holds that states may restrict carrying of guns in the open without affecting the 2nd Amendment.

On Wednesday, March 24, an en banc panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in a 7-4 decision a country law in Hawaii that puts a tight restriction on permits for carrying weapons openly. “The government may regulate, and even prohibit, in public places — including government buildings, churches, schools, and markets — the open carrying of small arms capable of being concealed, whether they are carried concealed or openly,” Judge Jay Bybee, appointed by former president George W Bush, wrote. The verdict is likely to help the Supreme Court to review the issue, the Los Angeles Times reported. Federal appellate courts have handed down clashing rulings on gun laws that can only be resolved by the high courts. 


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“The en banc court rejected Young’s argument that [the state law] is invalid as a prior restraint because it vests chiefs of police with unbridled discretion to determine whether a permit is issued. Joining its sister circuits, the en banc court held that the prior restraint doctrine does not apply to Second Amendment challenges to firearm-licensing laws," the court said. In 2012, plaintiff George Young sued Hawaii  for turning down his applications for permits to carry a handgun, concealed or openly visible. Under Hawaii's state law. one requires a license to carry a gun in public.

The Hawaii decision’s timing is significant for it comes when President Biden is seeking stricter laws in the wake of the Atlanta and Boulder shootings. The issue has still seen a split between the Democrats and Republicans as while the former have sought stronger gun laws, GOP-dominated legislatures in many states have tried to weaken them. Fifteen states already permit people to carry hidden guns without a permit while nine have bills to either allow or expand it.

Healthcare workers walk out of a King Sooper's Grocery store after a gunman opened fire on March 22, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado. (Getty Images)


Baybee said a review of more than seven centuries of American and English law showed that the government has long had the power to regulate weapons in public. “We have never assumed that individuals have an unfettered right to carry weapons in public spaces,” Bybee wrote, adding: “Indeed, we can find no general right to carry arms into the public square for self-defense.”

What the dissenting judges say?

Baybee was joined by another appointee of the former Republican president besides five Democratic appointees. Four judges dissented the majority ruling. “Dissenting, Judge O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Callahan, Ikuta, and R. Nelson, would hold that both [the state law] and the 1997 County regulation destroy the core right to carry a gun for self-defense outside the home and are unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny,” the ruling said. “Judge O’Scannlain stated that the majority holds that while the Second Amendment may guarantee the right to keep a firearm for self-defense within one’s home, it provides no right whatsoever to bear—i.e., to carry—that same firearm for self-defense in any other place.”
Judge Diarmuid F O’Scannlain, who wrote the lead dissent, called the verdict “unprecedented” and “extreme”. An appointee of former president Ronald Reagan, he said: “At its core, the 2nd Amendment protects the ordinary, law-abiding citizen’s right to carry a handgun openly for purposes of self-defense outside the home. Despite an exhaustive historical account, the majority has unearthed nothing to disturb this conclusion.”

A gun-control group hailed the ruling to say the SCOTUS would consider this week whether to review a similar case happening in New York. “Today’s ruling, joined by respected appellate judges across the ideological spectrum, is the latest reminder that arguments against reasonable, life-saving gun laws rarely hold up in the courtroom,” Eric Tirschwell, managing director for Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, was quoted as saying by the LA Times. “As the court recognized, states and localities have extremely broad power to restrict the carrying of firearms in public spaces,” he added. 
The verdict permits continued enforcement of a law on the island of Hawaii that restricts permits for only carrying guns, other than hunting, to those in an urgent need for arms and “engaged in protection of life and property”. Wednesday’s verdict also affects nine western states, including California, which makes up the 9th Circuit.

In 2016, the 9th Circuit said that people do not have a constitutional right to carry hidden guns in the open, allowing counties to decide requirements for permits and who gets them.
The National Rifle Association reacted to the ruling saying: “The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit just ruled that THERE IS NO RIGHT TO CARRY – either openly or concealed in public. This ruling impacts RTC laws in AK, HI, CA, AZ, OR, WA, & MT. This was not an NRA case but we are exploring all options to rectify this.”



The ruling is expected to have wide ramifications for lawful gun owners around the country. To what extent? Experts are looking for answers.