Gun owners were justifiably disappointed June 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Peruta v. California. The denial was a setback in NRA’s efforts to secure judicial recognition that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms outside the home. For now, misguided state and local governments will continue to deny their residents’ Right-to-Carry.
The Peruta case began back in October 2009, when plaintiff Edward Peruta filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California arguing that San Diego County Sheriff William Gore violated his Second Amendment rights. Under California’s permitting law, Gore had wide discretion to deny carry permits to applicants unless they demonstrated “good cause” for obtaining it. A desire to exercise the Second Amendment right to self-defense did not meet the sheriff’s definition of “good cause.”
At the outset, a key argument for the defense held that San Diego’s interpretation of California’s permit law did not extinguish Peruta’s Second Amendment right, as California did not prohibit individuals from openly carrying an unloaded handgun outside the home. However, in 2011, California enacted a law prohibiting the open carry of handguns.
In 2014, in a tremendously well-reasoned opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that San Diego’s enforcement of California’s discretionary permitting scheme violated the Second Amendment. In 2016, however, a larger panel of Ninth Circuit judges came to the opposite conclusion. The Ninth Circuit refused to take California’s prohibition on open carry into account, ruling only that “the Second Amendment does not protect, in any degree, the carrying of concealed firearms.”
However unfortunate, the current cloud over our Second Amendment rights does have a silver lining. Peruta’s fate confirmed that the newest member of the Supreme Court has a firm commitment to an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.
Coinciding with the Court’s decision to reject Peruta, Justice Clarence Thomas issued a blistering dissent from the court’s denial. He was joined by the newest member of the Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Thomas admonished the Ninth Circuit’s failure to address California’s entire carry scheme as “indefensible.” Joined by Gorsuch, he went on to explain that the Supreme Court has “already suggested that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry firearms in public in some fashion.”
Moreover, Thomas addressed the Court’s recent substandard treatment of the Second Amendment, calling this development “a distressing trend” and “inexcusable.”
Gorsuch’s actions represent a major victory for gun owners and reminder of how important elections truly are. Following the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, gun owners faced the prospect of a Court that would pervert the Second Amendment to eliminate its protections for our individual right to keep and bear arms. But gun owners rose to the challenge, putting pressure on their Senators to reject Barack Obama’s anti-gun nominee, Merrick Garland. Illustrating the importance gun rights supporters played in this battle, the New York Times editorial page whined, “The Senate Defers to the N.R.A.”
Gun rights supporters went on to make the Court a pivotal issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, one that helped put Donald Trump in the White House. And when several senators threatened to block any Trump Court pick, NRA stood by the president’s nominee.
Gorsuch’s participation in Thomas’s forceful dissent is tangible evidence that he respects the Second Amendment and the individual right it guarantees.
Moreover, Peruta was not the last chance gun owners will have to vindicate our Right-to-Carry before the Court. A response to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Peruta – Flanagan v. Becerra – challenges California’s open carry prohibition. And Grace v. District of Columbia is yet another case that may have a critical bearing on our Right-to-Carry in public by challenging the District’s highly restrictive permit regime. In addition to those current cases, more lawsuits are on the way.
Gun owners, just as Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, are right to be disappointed in the Court’s recent treatment of the Second Amendment. What we should not do is become discouraged. Gun rights supporters would do well to recall the decades of scholarship, activism, and litigation that led to our victories in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. As long as Second Amendment supporters are resolute in our purpose and work to ensure the appointment of judges and justices that respect our rights, the Second Amendment will once again win at the highest court.