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States with strict gun-permitting laws consider next steps

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state law that had restricted who could obtain a permit to carry a gun in public. Under the law in place since 1913, New York residents needed to show proper cause, or an actual need, to carry a concealed handgun in public for self-defense..

The justices said that law conflicts with the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. It drew swift reaction from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who called the decision reckless and said she was prepared to call the Legislature back into session to form a response.

“We do not need people entering our subways, our restaurants and movie theaters with concealed weapons," she said. "We don’t need more guns on our streets.”

New York and a half a dozen other states with similar laws like California now must decide their next steps.

The court’s ruling will likely affect California’s strict permitting laws, said California’s attorney general and gun owners’ rights organizations.

Attorney General Rob Bonta told California law enforcement agencies in a letter earlier this month that “given California’s similar, ‘good cause’ standard, the decision may impact California laws regarding the carrying of firearms in public places.” He said many aspects of California’s law might remain untouched, despite the ruling.

State Assemblyman Chris Ward says lawmakers are now worried about a flood of lawsuits challenging the state’s law banning assault weapons, ghost guns and large magazines.

“Deeply alarmed, you know California has been very responsible, really leading the nation and common sense gun control legislation,” Ward said.

California has some of the tightest gun restrictions in the country. Ward himself co-sponsored legislation to make it easier to sue gun manufacturers. Within hours of the high court ruling, the governor and lawmakers vowed to shore up the state’s gun laws to survive future court challenges.

“We're talking already, between the Assembly and the Senate, introducing legislation to specify where a concealed weapon could be carried. You know we're having to think about how we turn the assessment of dangerousness into a consideration for how concealed carry permits could be issued,” Ward said.

Nearly two-thirds of California’s 58 counties already eased their standards for granting concealed weapons permits after a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s concealed carry standard in 2014, said attorney Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association.

They kept the more permissive standard even after a larger appellate panel reversed the decision two years later, said Michel, who wrote a book on California’s strict gun laws.

At issue is the standard that local officials — usually sheriffs, but sometimes police chiefs — use when considering who should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon outside the house. Gun rights advocates say the court overturning the New York law means California must join the 43 states that have what are considered “shall issue” standards. Those generally require officials to issue permits unless there is some reason that an individual should be denied.

Of California’s 58 counties, 37 already grant permits if an applicant requests it for self defense. That effectively makes them “shall issue” counties, advocates said. The other 21 counties have tighter standards, for example requiring applicants to demonstrate that they have business-related or professional risks that justify them being armed.

The Supreme Court decision “not only affirms that laws prohibiting licensed public concealed carry of firearms for self-defense violates the Constitution, but also that courts have been applying the wrong approach to evaluating the constitutionality of gun control laws,” Michel said.

Michel’s organization plans to immediately send the 21 counties legal notices that they must ease their standards in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. He also plans to ask the 9th Circuit to rule on his latest legal challenge to California’s “good cause” standard, a decision that has been on hold awaiting the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision in the New York case.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his organization expects to quickly sue California to force it to adopt the standard set in the New York decision, and to sue local jurisdictions if they don’t adopt the high court’s ruling.