Freedomnomics

Article published Thursday, February 13, 2014, at Fox News.

It may soon be easy to carry a permitted concealed handgun in California

By John R. Lott, Jr.

California may soon join 42 other states in letting people carry concealed handguns once they meet certain objective criteria.

Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state couldn’t ban both concealed and open carry guns. The court also struck down the so-called “good cause” requirement for getting a permit, saying that concern for one’s personal safety should be sufficient justification.

The Constitution guarantees Americans the right to “keep and bear arms.” To “bear” means to carry.

Ironically, California may have opened the door to make it much easier for people to get concealed handgun permits by recently banning people from openly carrying guns. The court wrote that while it might indeed be constitutional for a state to ban concealed handguns or to ban people openly carrying handguns, it simply can’t ban both options.

Counties such as Los Angeles have only let a few hundred people get concealed handgun permits out of 7.5 million adults. In San Diego, only about 700 out of 2.4 million can carry. And in San Francisco, no one is granted a permit to carry a gun.

In Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the few lucky people getting permits are big donors to a sheriff’s re-election campaign or a sheriff’s personal friend. In other counties, such as Stanislaus County in northern California, the key to getting a permit seems to be either an influential politician or a prominent businessman.

There are over 11 million concealed handgun permits nationally.Yet, the right to defend oneself in California has largely been limited to the very well-to-do and to the politically powerful.

As a result you have stories like a retired 49-year-old police sergeant with an impeccable record who was denied a permit. "I'm not a gun nut," Matt Speckman said. "But I've been involved in investigations of people now getting paroled who have probably been throwing darts at my picture in their cells."

Yet, in liberal California, the very people who need protection the most, poor blacks who live in high crime urban areas, have no chance of getting approved.

The court clearly disapproved of this selective choice in who is allowed to protect themselves. The decision writes about allowing the “typical responsible, law-abiding citizen to bear arms in public for the lawful purpose of self-defense.”

So-called “Shall Issue” laws would be consistent with the court’s ruling. Such a permitting scheme allows one to get a concealed handgun permit once applicants pass a background check, get their training, and pay their fees.

Police are very supportive of these rules. PoliceOne, with 450,000 members and the largest organization of police officers in the country recently surveyed its members: 91 percent of officers supported these “shall issue” laws. Almost as many sheriffs and police chiefs feel the same way.

While the 7th Circuit court of Appeals came to a similar decision as this court, cases for other states such as Maryland, New York, and New Jersey have come out quite differently and let the states decide if people have a “good reason” to protect themselves. This almost guarantees that a case will find its way to the Supreme Court.

Fox’s John Stossel, who has faced many death threats, was denied the right to carry a concealed handgun permit in New York City (the segment on Fox News is almost amusing).

This case is unlikely to be the only time that courts step in to rein in California’s extreme gun control laws. While Californians may soon have the right to carry a concealed handgun, the micro-stamping law, requiring a microscopic marking onto the tip of the firing pin that etches a marking on the ejected cartridges, is proving impossible to comply with.

The ultimate question is: do only the most privileged have the right to defend themselves? Thursday's decision by the 9th Circuit says “no.”

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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