There is no right to carry a concealed handgun in public. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
In a sweeping ruling, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there is no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed firearm in public. The broad wording of the decision in Peterson v. Martinez creates a far-reaching national precedent against carrying a loaded handgun outside the home.
The case began on a narrow point – a challenge by a Washington State man against Colorado’s law to issue CHL permits (“Concealed Handgun License”) only to state residents. But the final ruling held, “In light of our nation’s extensive practice of restricting citizens’ freedom to carry firearms in a concealed manner, we hold that this activity does not fall within the scope of the Second Amendment’s protections.”
The federal court also rejected arguments that Colorado’s CHL law infringed on the the Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
To bullet-proof the ruling against an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 10th Circuit recounted numerous court rulings and state laws dating back to 1813, and based its ruling on prior U.S. Supreme Court cases.
The View from the Ground
Colorado law allows people to have a firearm in their homes, places of business and cars. But to carry a concealed weapon in public, a state resident must apply to a local sheriff to get a permit. Gray Peterson claimed that the law left him “completely disarmed.”
Sheriffs use locally-maintained databases to check for misdemeanor and municipal court convictions involving drugs, alcohol or violence that will disqualify a citizen. The local databases also include mental health contacts, 911 calls that do not result in an arrest, a history of aggressive driving, juvenile arrest records, plea agreements that result in deferred sentences, restraining orders in civil cases, and reports that a person is a danger to himself or others.
None of this local information is stored in national databases. Non-residents cannot get a concealed-carry permit, because local sheriffs cannot get access to this kind of information held by other states, according to the court.
Peterson was rejected for a concealed handgun license because he had no residence in Colorado. His lawsuit to overturn that state handgun law was thrown out and affirmed by the 10th Circuit which said, “We first ask whether the Second Amendment provides the right to carry a concealed firearm. We conclude that it does not.”
Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court, the 10th Circuit added, ”like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
The Big Picture
The ruling is yet another setback for the NRA, which filed a brief supporting Peterson. The NRA has pursued a strategy of using litigation to eliminate gun-safety laws one at a time, which increases the sales and profits of the arms industry that funds the NRA. The strategy backfired because the lawsuit focused on the narrow issue of permits for non-residents, and blew up into an expansive ruling limiting gun rights. The ruling is a precedent in all federal courts.
The heavily-funded NRA has filed many cases against small municipalities and local sheriffs nationwide, trying to pick off safety laws individually. That strategy failed when it sued to allow gun sales to minors, to overturn a limit allowing one gun purchase per month and to overturn a law allowing doctors to discuss the dangers of gun ownership with patients. Courts in each of these cases ruled against the gun lobby.
Had Peterson won the 10th Circuit case, the NRA would have achieved in the courts what it has been unable to do in Congress — eliminating conceal-carry residency requirements nationwide. The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 822) would force states that allow the concealed carrying of guns to recognize each other’s permits, but it has been stalled in the U.S. Senate.
“The NRA is basically helping to make sure the gun industry can increase sales,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat and longtime gun control advocate, told The Huffington Post.
Another Argument Shot Down
In the Colorado case, Peterson also argued that his right to travel was infringed by the ban on concealed carry permits for non-residents. He cited a case where residents in New York paid a lesser toll to cross a bridge than other drivers, claiming it restricted the right to free movement.
The 10th Circuit shot down the argument, saying that the right to travel was economic in nature. “The concealed carrying of a firearm does not impact his ability to pursue a common calling or other employment,” the court said, adding that it didn’t limit his joining the National Guard or the military either.
“We conclude that carrying a concealed weapon is not a privilege or immunity protected under Article IV [of the constitution],” the court ruled. “Given that the concealed carrying of firearms has not been recognized as a right … we cannot declare this activity sufficiently basic to the livelihood of the Nation.”