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California's attorney general takes up court fight over gun laws

A Los Angeles Police Department officer inspects a handgun in Los Angeles, California, December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
A Los Angeles Police Department officer inspects a handgun in Los Angeles, California, December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California's attorney general on Thursday waded into a court fight over the state's strict gun laws, asking an appeals court to reverse itself and restore the leeway local governments had to decide who can carry a concealed firearm.

A three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, acting on a lawsuit by gun owners, earlier this month struck down as unconstitutional a requirement by San Diego County that residents show "good cause" to carry a concealed firearm.

In a 2-1 decision, the panel found that San Diego county's rules, coupled with a California state law that largely bans the open carrying of firearms in public, effectively barred residents from carrying a gun altogether, in violation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers for both sides agreed that the panel's ruling, if upheld, would force cities and counties across California to issue permits to anyone who sought to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense and met the other requirements under state law.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has since said that he would not pursue further appeals in the case. But on Thursday, Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a petition asking the full 9th Circuit court to overturn the panel.

"Local law enforcement must be able to use their discretion to determine who can carry a concealed weapon," Harris said in a statement announcing the court filing.

"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," Harris said.

California, which has enacted some of the strictest gun laws in the United States, allows residents to carry a concealed weapon if they meet several requirements, including completing a training course, demonstrating good moral character and establishing "good cause" to have the gun.

Interpretation of the statute is left to individual jurisdictions, with San Diego County taking one of the most restrictive stances by refusing to accept self-defense or concern for personal safety as a good cause.

Instead, applicants must demonstrate a special need or a specific risk in order to establish good cause.

In dissenting from the majority opinion, 9th Circuit Justice Sidney Thomas wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court had found it constitutional to place restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in public.

He said the 9th Circuit panel's majority went beyond the legal questions posed in the lawsuit to render a ruling that "not only strikes down San Diego County's concealed carry policy, but upends the entire California firearm regulatory scheme."

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb)

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