BOULDER, Colo. — Tab Bonidy carries a concealed pistol everywhere he goes. It offers him a sense of safety even in Avon, Colorado, a mountain town so small its lone post office doesn't offer home delivery.
But when the 56-year-old architect drives into town to pick up his mail, he has to disarm, even if he's just running into the lobby. It's a hassle, he says, but U.S. Postal Service rules prohibit bringing guns inside.
Bonidy is challenging that rule in federal court, saying it violates his Second Amendment rights.
"It's just a lobby with a bunch of boxes, everyone in Avon goes there to get their mail," Bonidy said. "Even there, I'm disarmed and not able to protect myself."
A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday heard arguments in his case, which could impact security at the Postal Service's tens of thousands of facilities nationwide. The court met at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, where the judges held the hearing so students could listen.
Though Bonidy was never specifically confronted about his handgun, he sued the Postal Service in 2010. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch found the agency could not keep him from securing his weapon in his truck in the post office parking lot while he went inside unarmed.
But the judge also ruled that the post office could prohibit him from bringing his gun into any part of the building.
Bonidy appealed, seeking access to the unsecured lobby. He said Matsch's ruling didn't go far enough.
The Postal Service also appealed, arguing the judge was wrong to let Bonidy take his weapon anywhere on postal property, even the parking lot.
Bonidy, whose lawsuit is backed by the National Association for Gun Rights, and the postal service disagree over what constitutes a "sensitive place" where guns can be legally banned, such as a government building or school.
Bonidy's attorney Steven Lechner of the Mountain States Legal Foundation told the judges the lobby is not such a place, as there are no security guards checking patrons, who come at all hours.
"Not every government building is sensitive. There has to be some criteria or the government gets a free pass," he said. "If the government prevents someone from defending themselves, there has to be some security. You can't disarm a citizen if he wants to pick up his mail."
But Daniel Tenny, an attorney for the Department of Justice, told the judges that the Postal Service needs the blanket weapons ban for security purposes. Deciding which buildings — and which people — should be exempt from the rules would be a strain on resources, he said.
One of the justices, Judge Gregory A. Phillips, noted that not all people who bring guns into buildings bring them to protect themselves. There have been several shootings at postal facilities and other government buildings in recent years. A former postal employee in 2006 shot five people to death at a huge mail-processing center in California before killing herself.
The judges will issue a written ruling, but it could take weeks or months.
Despite the argument over sensitive places, Bonidy agreed the courtroom was no place for a gun.
Wearing a cowboy hat and bolo tie with his full suit, he stowed his gun in his truck before walking inside.
Follow Sadie Gurman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sgurman