A recent Supreme Court decision not to hear the Right-to-Carry case of Peruta v. California was a setback for Second Amendment rights advocates and the NRA. The court rejected even hearing the case, but offered hope in the dissents of two justices, Clarence Thomas and new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, that give gun owners expectations that the Court will clarify Right-to-Carry laws in the future.
Peruta v. California centers around the state of California’s prohibition of open carry in 2011. Plaintiff Ed Peruta filed a complaint in 2009 with the state that his application for a carry permit in San Diego County was unfairly denied by County Sheriff William Gore.
Gore claimed that Peruta’s right to self-defense didn’t demonstrate to Gore “good cause” for obtaining a carry permit. The County argues that applicants for carrying firearms must show what “distinguishes [them] from the mainstream and places [them] in harm’s way.”
Peruta’s lawyers have argued that San Diego County’s interpretation of the restrictive California law overstepped Peruta’s rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In 2014, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that Gore’s denial violated Peruta’s Second Amendment rights. But in 2016, a larger panel overruled this decision in terms of concealed carry. Yet it didn’t address the 2011 California prohibition on open carry.
In his dissent to the Supreme Court not hearing the case, Justice Thomas called California’s current position on carry laws “indefensible.” Both he and Justice Gorsuch expanded on this further by stating that the Supreme Court “already suggested that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry firearms in public in some fashion.”
Thomas labeled the Court’s substandard approach to the Second Amendment in recent years “inexcusable” and “a distressing trend.” The fact that Gorsuch took Thomas’ side is a tremendous victory for gun owners since it shows that President Trump’s pick for the Court to replace Justice Antonin Scalia delivered on the campaign promises of Trump to secure Second Amendment rights.
The NRA’s tough stance on Trump’s potential Supreme Court nomination in 2016 helped convince Senators to back off their threats to withhold Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in 2017. Had gun owners not put pressure on their Senators to reject former President Obama’s Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland last year, it’s doubtful this recent dissent would have been as forceful or as significant as it is.
The continuous rejection of Garland over the last year of Obama’s second term had news outlets like The New York Times writing editorials claiming that “The Senate Defers to the NRA.” Gun owners then proceeded to make Second Amendment rights a top campaign priority in the election of 2016, which has been vindicated by Gorsuch’s support of Thomas in this dissent.
Even though the Peruta case was summarily rejected by the Supreme Court, another California case, Flanagan v. Becerra, centering around the city of Los Angeles’ open and concealed carry prohibitions, is also challenging the Ninth Circuit Peruta ruling. It remains to be seen how the Ninth Circuit will rule in this important case. The Right-to-Carry in public is also being fought for in the District of Columbia, where permitting is severely limited, with another case, Grace v. District of Columbia, that will have added bearing on the issue. Additionally, other important legal cases are upcoming, so watch this space for further news.
In the meantime, gun owners shouldn’t be discouraged by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Peruta case. It took decades of activism, scholarship and hard-fought litigation to achieve victory in the landmark McDonald v. Chicago and District of Columbia v. Heller cases of 2010 and 2008, respectively. The former case upheld the freedom of American citizens not to have their states encroach on constitutionally guaranteed gun rights, while the latter confirmed that the District of Columbia’s mandate that firearms be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock” was unconstitutional.
It’s important that gun owners stay resolute in their support of the appointment of justices and judges that respect the Second Amendment. It’s likely only a matter of time before the Supreme Court further clarifies gun rights laws. Until then, victories at the local, state and circuit level will serve to bolster positions that can cement firearm protections.
~ American Gun News