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Right to bear arms in public left in doubt

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court left uncertain on Monday whether gun owners have a Second Amendment right to carry a firearm in public.

Without a comment or dissent, the justices turned down a gun rights challenge to a New York law that strictly limits who can carry a gun on the street, leaving states and cities, at least for now, with broad authority to regulate guns outside of the home.

In a pair of decisions in 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court struck down ordinances in Washington and Chicago that prohibited all private possession of handguns. However, the justices did not address whether the Second Amendment also protected gun owners who want to carry a weapon in public.

Most states allow law-abiding gun owners to obtain a “concealed carry” permit.

However, at least seven states, including New York, California and Illinois, have laws on the books that make it difficult or nearly impossible for gun owners to obtain a permit that allows them to be armed in public.

Those laws are under challenge in the lower courts.

In December, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago struck down the Illinois law as violating the Second Amendment. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has pending several Second Amendment challenges to the laws by which California counties deny most “concealed carry” permits.

To obtain a “concealed carry” permit, New Yorkers must convince a county official that they have a “special need for protection” that goes beyond living or working in a high-crime area.

Only about one-tenth of 1 percent of New Yorkers have concealed carry permits, compared with more than 6 percent in the neighboring states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the court was told.

Several gun owners who were denied a “concealed carry” permit sued, arguing they had a Second Amendment right to carry a gun for self-defense.

Rather than hear their appeal, the high court let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court that held states have the authority to decide the issue.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the decision keeps in place the state's “sensible and effective regulations of concealed handguns. This is a victory for families across New York who are rightly concerned about the scourge of gun violence.”

The court's refusal to hear an appeal does not set a legal precedent.

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