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Has time come for the Supreme Court to take up carry?

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Speculation has been building that tomorrow, the Supreme Court could announce whether it will consider if the right to bear arms for personal protection extends outside the home by taking a New Jersey case that challenges the Garden State’s ultra-restrictive “needs based” permit requirement.

It is a case brought by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs called Drake v. Jerejian. If the high court accepts their petition, it would be the third time in a row that attorney Alan Gura would argue a Second Amendment case before the justices. He won both the Heller case, brought by the Cato Institute, in 2008 and the McDonald case, brought by SAF and the Illinois State Rifle Association, in 2010.

Concealed carry is a big issue nationally, and locally. On Friday, Examiner learned from the Washington State Department of Licensing that there are now more than 457,000 active concealed pistol licenses in the state. That’s up more than 3,000 from a month ago, and more than 7,800 new CPLs since the first of the year.

Nationally, according to some estimates, more than 11 million citizens are licensed to carry. But in eight states, including New Jersey, Maryland, California and New York, the authorities have considerable discretion in deciding who can exercise a constitutional right to bear arms. Even the Daily Kos wonders if the time has come to sort out this important right. How much, if at all, can the bearing of arms be regulated?

A "needs" requirement would never wash in the Evergreen State, or in most western states outside of California. It might spell a bit of trouble for backers of a gun control initiative on the November ballot, as increasing numbers of citizens are exercising their rights, which opponents of Initiative 594 contend would be eroded if their complicated 18-page measure passes.

An alternative measure, I-591, is simple by comparison. It requires background checks conducted here to comply with the uniform national standard. It also has a provision that is noticeably absent from I-594; a prohibition on government gun confiscation without due process. Anyone who doesn’t think that could happen only needs to look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I-594 is sponsored by the well-financed, Seattle-based Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. I-591 is backed by Protect Our Gun Rights, a grassroots statewide coalition of hunters, law enforcement professionals, gun collectors, competitors and recreational shooters.

Back on the broader subject of concealed carry, it seems logical to gun rights advocates that the term “bear arms” naturally refers to carrying guns outside the home. The open carry of firearms in Washington has been upheld by court precedent, and Washington has one of the nation’s oldest concealed carry laws, dating back to the 1930s.

New Jersey is different. Ditto Maryland, because in these states, issuing authorities have a nearly impossible-to-meet threshold of “need” and history suggests that authorities in both states think nobody needs to carry a gun for self-defense.

Should the Supremes accept the Drake case, and strike down the restrictive “needs” requirement, those states will have to come up with new licensing structures. Such a ruling would also scotch perennial efforts by gun prohibitionists to turn back “shall issue’ laws in Washington and most other states.

But until the court makes an announcement, tomorrow or any other day, how things would turn out is mere speculation. The issue is one that will not go away.

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