Q&A: How does the Supreme Court ruling on New York’s gun law impact California?

Several states including California have gun-permit rules similar to the New York law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday. The court said requiring residents to show a “special need” to qualify for a concealed-gun permit was unconstitutional.

Here’s what the decision means in the short and long term.

Q: What exactly did the Supreme Court decide?

A: In ruling on New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the court’s 6-3 conservative majority struck down a requirement in New York that applicants for concealed weapons permits must prove to the state’s satisfaction that they have an “actual and articulable” self-defense claim rather than a general fear for their safety. The court found the requirement, which critics say is unevenly enforced in New York — and locally in the Bay Area — unfairly restricted Second Amendment rights.

Q: How does California regulate concealed-gun permits?

A: The state Department of Justice issues permits, but they are processed by county sheriff’s offices and local police departments. State law gives the heads of those law-enforcement agencies wide discretion, which they tend to use in one of two ways. About half of California’s 58 counties have adopted a “shall issue” policy, meaning that applicants who show proficiency in firearms use and safety and don’t have a serious criminal conviction by and large receive a permit. The other half, including many in the Bay Area and in the Los Angeles area, enforce a “may issue” policy: Like New York, they require applicants to show “good cause” for why they should be able to carry a concealed gun in public.

Q: How will Thursday’s decision affect what happens in California?

A: The decision means that Bay Area counties and other jurisdictions are not allowed to require applicants to provide a specific reason they need a concealed weapons permit. That could mean a notable increase in the number of people who obtain permits and a significant increase in the number of concealed handguns in public places.

Whether the court’s ruling will lead to changes in state law is not clear. Donald Kilmer, a Second Amendment attorney who has sued Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith over what he alleged was political favoritism in her office’s permit-issuing practices, believes law enforcement agencies can adjust without any statutory changes.

“They will have to accept plain old, ordinary, vanilla self defense as good cause,” Kilmer said.

But California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he is spearheading legislation, which could be heard by lawmakers as soon as next week, to codify where concealed guns are still prohibited and what requirements remain in place for concealed-carry permits.

Q: Does the decision throw the door open to any Californian who wants to carry a concealed handgun in public?

A: No. Permits will be required, Bonta said Thursday morning. Californians will still need to pass a background check, demonstrate firearms proficiency and safety and show proof of employment or residence in a county issuing the permit.

Q: Will any other restrictions remain in place?

A: The court’s ruling did not curtail the enforcement of gun prohibitions in “sensitive places” — such as legislative buildings, courthouses and schools. The high court said in a 2008 ruling that such restrictions are allowable, and Justice Clarence Thomas indicated in the majority opinion that Thursday’s ruling will not change that.

Kilmer predicted that private businesses that are not generally open to the public will retain their right to restrict firearms in their locations, in the same way they can enforce a “No shirt, no shoes, no service” policy. But places of public congregation and private businesses that are broadly open to the public — such as shopping malls and grocery stores — are on “a little bit more shaky ground” legally. How that might be regulated remains unclear.

Q: Who besides gun-rights advocates benefits from Thursday’s ruling?

A: Olu Orange, a decorated civil rights attorney and director of the USC Dornsife Trial Advocacy Program, said he believes that Justice Thomas’ rationale was partly rooted in an opposition to government discretion that in practice has been used to disarm Black Americans.

Kilmer said the court’s decision also can be viewed as “an anti-corruption ruling.”

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He points to the ongoing controversy involving Sheriff Smith, whose top commanders have been criminally indicted while she faces trial — and potential removal from office — based on a civil grand jury’s corruption accusations. The scandal revolves around allegations that Smith and her office brokered concealed-gun permits for political favors and re-election support.

Smith’s office said Thursday it was too early to comment on how it would respond to the court’s ruling. Sheriffs officials in Alameda and Contra Costa counties also said they were still evaluating how the ruling would affect their policies.

Q: What are other possible consequences of this ruling?

A: Orange predicts the result will be more handgun sales and more guns on California streets. The consequences of that are still unclear, he said, but public safety as a whole could suffer.

“Take road rage for example. You’ll have an emotional situation, and adding a gun to the situation adds a level of danger that wouldn’t otherwise been there.”

Staff Writer Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report.

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