LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Second Amendment protects the right to openly carry a gun in public for self-defense.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Hawaii officials had violated George Young's rights when he was denied a permit to openly carry a loaded gun in public to protect himself.
The decision reversed a lower court ruling that sided with officials who said the amendment only applied to guns kept in homes.
"We do not take lightly the problem of gun violence, which the State of Hawaii 'has understandably sought to fight,'" Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote. "But, for better or for worse, the Second Amendment does protect a right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense."
If the ruling stands, it could lead to more guns in public in the few western states under 9th Circuit jurisdiction where they are currently restricted.
"States like Hawaii and California will have to allow far more guns on the streets than they do today," said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "States would be able to ban concealed carry but only if they allow people to carry their guns openly displayed."
Winkler, however, expects the decision to be appealed to a full panel of the San Francisco-based court.
Tuesday's ruling comes two years after a full panel of the 9th Circuit ruled that there's no right to carry concealed guns in public. That June 2016 ruling struck down a 2-1 panel opinion that was also written by O'Scannlain.
Gun rights is one of the most hotly debated issues in U.S. political and legal circles with any loosening or restriction of access to guns often leading to a court battle. The U.S. Supreme Court has shied away from firearms fights in recent years, turning away challenges to restrictions after striking down gun ownership bans in the District of Columbia and Chicago in 2008 and 2010.
Judge Richard Clifton suggested in his dissent that the Supreme Court will likely settle the issue because several conflicting appeals decisions now show "there is no single voice on this question."
Clifton, who like the other judges on the panel was nominated to the court by a Republican president, criticized the majority for going "astray in several respects" and disregarding that states such as Hawaii have long regulated and limited the public carrying of guns, which he said did not undermine the core of the Second Amendment.
Attorney Alan Beck, who represented Young, said Hawaii County never issued a carry permit in 20 years. Young, a Vietnam veteran who spent 21 years in the infantry, couldn't find anyone to represent him in his case and wasn't even allowed to argue his case in a lower court.
"I just thought he was a sympathetic good man who deserved an attorney," Beck said. "I didn't go in with any expectation of winning or losing. I just wanted to give him his day in court."
Hawaii Attorney General Russell Suzuki said he planned to consult with the county and work with them on any further action.
"We are disappointed in the decision that would undermine Hawaii's strong gun control law and our commitment to protect the public," Suzuki said in a statement, though he noted the "well-reasoned dissent supporting the constitutionality of this law."