The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (whose jurisdiction includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the territories of Guam and the North Mariana Islands) was called upon to decide whether a responsible, law-abiding citizen has a right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. The answer: yes.

California generally prohibits the open or concealed carry of a handgun, whether loaded or unloaded, in public locations. However, one may apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon in the city or county in which he or she works or resides. To obtain such a license, the applicant must demonstrate “good moral character,” complete a specified training course, and establish “good cause.”

"Good cause" is evaluated on an individual basis and may arise in “situations related to personal protection as well as those related to individual businesses or occupations.” But, according to the court, concern for “one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause.” In San Diego County, for example, a person must show “a sufficiently pressing need for self-protection.” If he or she cannot demonstrate “circumstances that distinguish [him] from the mainstream,” the county will deny the person’s application for a concealed carry license. Given this requirement, coupled with the prohibition on carrying firearms openly, “the 'typical' responsible, law-abiding citizen in San Diego County cannot bear arms in public for self-defense," the court said.

Gun owners who were denied licenses by San Diego County sued, arguing that by defining “good cause” in the county’s permitting scheme to exclude a general desire to carry for self-defense, the county impermissibly infringed their federal constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Although they were trained in gun use and had met background checks, the gun owners could not cite specific reasons why they needed to carry the weapons in public. Essentially, these law abiding citizens were restricted to carrying firearms in their own homes.

In a very scholarly and sometimes witty 2-1 opinion, the majority held that it is unconstitutional to confine the “right to bear” arms solely to the home. Such a restriction amounts to a complete evisceration of Second Amendment rights. While government can outlaw carrying a concealed firearm in public, or carrying a firearm openly in public, it cannot do both. "We are not holding that the Second Amendment requires the states to permit concealed carry . . . [b]ut the Second Amendment does require that the states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home."

It’s long, but the majority opinion is well worth taking the time to read, especially for those who are interested in the history of the Second Amendment. It can be found here. Of course, this is not the last word. The county can ask a larger panel of judges (called an en banc panel) to hear the case, or it can appeal to the United States Supreme Court. This will be a very interesting case to watch.