The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in what may be the most significant Second Amendment case in over a decade. The key issue before the court whether, and how far, the right to bear arms extends outside an individual’s home and into the public square. A ruling by the court could lay the groundwork for the most consequential Second Amendment ruling since the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision.
Monday’s argument builds on a framework established by Justice Scalia in 2008. In the Heller decision, the Court ruled that the Second Amendment carved out constitutional protections for firearms uses that abide “traditionally lawful purposes.” The current case was spawned in 2013, and after finally having made its way up to the High Court, challenges New York City’s licensing scheme—one of the most restrictive in the nation. The Court’s ruling could have wide ranging effects on gun laws across the nation.
Currently, New York City requires gun owners to obtain a premise license to legally possess a firearm in the home.
Until recently, guns purchased through a premises license could only be removed from the home, unloaded and in a locked case, in order to be transported for target practice to an approved shooting range. Other specified reasons for transportation had to receive preclearance from the city. New York City has only seven public authorized ranges, and gun owners could not transport their weapons to a second home or range outside city boundaries.
“While this case is about an unusual and limited local rule, it provides an opportunity for the Supreme Court to reaffirm that the Second Amendment leaves ample room for the kinds of reasonable gun safety laws that save lives and that Americans overwhelmingly support,” Eric Tirschwell, litigation director of the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety—started by Democratic Presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg—said in a press release in January.
Lawmakers knew this was an issue hey did not want to go before the Court. To that end, once challenged, the city and state of New York, worked double time to make the issue go away. Essentially, knowing they could not win in court, they tried a sneaky legal maneuver—abolish restrictions forming the basis for the plaintiffs’ objections. The plan was to eliminate the controversy and therefore leave nothing of the complaint for the High Court to rule on. This opened up the draconian laws to allow New York State residents to transport firearms from any place which they have a license for to any place within the state where they are legally allowed to possess the firearm. In other words, New York City residents could transport their firearms to second homes or gun ranges outside city limits, as long as they had satisfied the licensing requirements of their destination’s regulators.
This case has twice before been reviewed on appeal. In 2015, a U.S. district court judge ruled against the plaintiffs. The results were much the same, in the City’s favor, in 2018 after an appellate court ruled in favor of New York City. This gave NYC’s governing legislators a fair amount of confidence, due to favorable judges and a Court with a history of supporting anti-Second Amendment legislation. Then the U.S. Supreme agreed to hear the case…
With Justice Scalia on the Court, Second Amendment proponents were hopeful. Now with a staunch opponent regulation in Justice Neil Gorsuch and Kennedy’s seat now filled by Justice Kavanaugh, gun control proponents have went so far as to propose packing the U.S. Supreme Court just to overturn the Second Amendment. However, that is not to say that anything is in the bag. The Court will make its own ruling and no one an truly predict the outcome of any case before the Court.
Newsweek appropriately pointed out:
The plaintiffs are arguing that the text of the Second Amendment—in its provision for keeping and bearing arms—does not square with a gun-ownership scheme that is confined to the home. In fact, the pistol association said in its brief, the word bear makes plain the notion that arms would be utilized “outside the home.”
Their brief argued that gun-ownership traditions in the United States made clear that the Second Amendment would protect “a right to carry a loaded firearm upon one’s person should the need for self-defense arise.” In rattling off restrictions the plaintiffs find burdensome, the brief notes that residents are prohibited under a premises license from carrying weapons outside the home “either openly or concealed.” This hints at the kind of expansive ruling that stakeholders may be holding out for—a broad expansion of concealed-carry and, possibly, open-carry rules.
The NRA aided the suit by the New York Pistol Association early on with a supportive legal brief. The NRA also weighed in recently citing the conduct of New York City with its attempt to have the case dismissed to avoid review:
“The Supreme Court saw through New York City’s blatant attempt to evade judicial review in this important case,” NRA-ILA executive director Jason Ouimet said in a press release after New York unsuccessfully tried to invoke mootness. “This case presents a national opportunity to confirm a simple truth that New York City politicians refuse to accept: Our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is fundamental, and it doesn’t vanish when we exit our homes.”
SCOTUS will go one of two ways of course. The Court has plenty of outs if it chooses to avoid the the looming gun-rights question. However, SCOTUS already had a chance to declare the case moot, which suggests a willingness to go forward—gun owners and supporters of Second Amendment rights can only be hopeful until then.
Do you think the Supreme Court will take up the bigger issue of the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense beyond the home? Share your answers and analysis in the comment section.
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