(Reuters) - The state of New York can continue to require residents who want to carry a concealed handgun in public to obtain a special license, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected a challenge brought by several Westchester residents and the Second Amendment Foundation against the state's handgun licensing scheme.
Like numerous other states, New York imposes restrictions on individuals who wish to carry concealed firearms in public.
Under New York law, people can apply to carry a handgun outside the home for the limited purposes of hunting or target practice. But those who want to carry concealed handguns in public without any restrictions must convince state licensing officers they have a special need for self-protection greater than others in the general community.
Five individuals who were denied permits sued four state court judges, who also serve as licensing officers, arguing that the requirement violated their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In requesting a carry permit, one of the plaintiffs had argued that as a transgender female, she was more likely to be a victim of violence. Others argued they were in good standing in the community and gainfully employed.
But state licensing officers denied their applications, saying they had failed to show special need for self-protection.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit upheld the state's licensing law, ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep arms for self-defense in the home, but does not extend to a right to carry concealed handguns in public.
The decision affirms a lower-court ruling from last year.
"Outside the home, firearm rights have always been more limited, because public safety interests often outweigh individual interests in self defense," Judge Richard Wesley wrote for the panel.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a District of Columbia ban on handguns in the home. The plaintiffs had argued that the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, made New York's handgun law unconstitutional.
But the 2nd Circuit panel concluded that the Supreme Court had only found a constitutional right to possess handguns in the home. The scope of that right outside the home was less clear, the panel said, but noted a longstanding tradition of states regulating firearm possession in public.
Alan Gura, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he disagreed with the ruling and planned to appeal either to a larger panel of the 2nd Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state has a right to regulate the carrying of handguns in public, Gura said, but the regulations must be objective.
"If the regulation merely states that the police can do what they feel like in terms of licensing people, then it's really just an arbitrary system," he said.
Gura, who argued the Heller case before the Supreme Court challenging the District of Columbia handgun ban, said the issue of Second Amendment protections in the public sphere would likely land before the Supreme Court in the near future.
Other cases are working their way through the courts, challenging similar licensing laws in California, Maryland and New Jersey, he said.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office represents the state defendants, welcomed the ruling in a statement.
"This unanimous decision is a victory for New York State law, the United States Constitution and families across New York who are rightly concerned about the scourge of gun violence that all too often plagues our communities," Schneiderman said.
The case is Kachalsky et al v. County of Westchester, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 11-3642.
(Reporting By Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Eddie Evans and Todd Eastham)