Restricting the right to carry guns in public has a long history in the United States and does not run afoul of the Second Amendment, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The decision affects only states in the 9th Circuit: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
But the repercussions are sure to weigh heavily in the debate over gun control at the federal level.
The ruling follows mass shootings this past week in Colorado and Georgia.
Ten people were killed Monday at a Boulder, Colo., grocery store, prompting the state to consider a ban on assault-style weapons.
Eight people were killed at Atlanta area spas. Six of the victims were of Asian descent.
The full federal appeals court for the Ninth Circuit concluded after a 700-year review of U.S. and English common law that people have never had “an unfettered, general right to openly carry arms in public for individual self-defense.”
Licenses are only granted by the police chief to those who need it for their jobs or otherwise have a “reason to fear injury.”
But an island resident, George Young, sued the state in 2012 after he was denied permits to carry a concealed and an openly visible handgun.
In 2018, a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel ruled 2-1 in his favor. It determined that carrying a gun in public was a constitutional right. But the State Attorney General and Hawaii County petitioned the full court for a new hearing.
Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee writing for the majority in a 127-page decision, cited longstanding English and American laws.
“The states do not violate the Second Amendment by asserting their longstanding English and American rights to prohibit certain weapons from entering those public spaces as means of providing ‘domestic tranquility’ and forestalling ‘domestic violence.’
“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,” wrote Bybee, a George W. Bush appointee.
The full court ruling was in line with the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570.
In the controversial opinion, written by Justice Anton Scalia, the court held the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to have a gun for “home protection.” All other uses were subject to regulation.
Because of conflicting rulings in other federal court circuits, the question is likely heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has already vowed to challenge the decision.
Three other circuit courts that have issued rulings similar to the 9th Circuit’s decision. Those courts are the Second, Third and Fourth Circuits, according to Courthouse News Service.
Significantly, the court majority relied on a lengthy history of laws that prohibited weapons in public going back to the 1328 Statute of Northampton in England.
In colonial America gun ownership was often restricted and in some cases all guns were required to be stored in a central location in the town.
Well after the Second Amendment was the law of the land, the state of Tennessee in 1801 prevented anyone from carrying a firearm in public. Violators faced fines and potential imprisonment.
In 1813, Louisiana banned all concealed weapons in public, including “dirk, dagger, knife, pistol or any other deadly weapon.” They had to be carried in open view.
The earliest law establishing a need to carry a gun in public goes back to 1836 in Massachusetts. Other states and territories followed suit, according to the ruling.
Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote in dissent that the county regulation destroys “the core right to carry a gun for self-defense outside the home and are unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny.”
In keeping with District of Columbia v. Heller, the Ninth Circuit majority concluded “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.”