In April, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the NRA-backed case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett. This case presents the court with a historic opportunity to affirm the right to bear arms in public for self-defense.
There’s a saying in sports that game day is merely when you show up to execute and collect the trophy. The real work that went into winning occurred unseen in the countless hours of practice, conditioning, coaching and preparation that preceded the event.
The same applies to headline-grabbing victories that occur in Second Amendment advocacy, such as getting the chance at a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It took vision, dedication, sophistication, expertise and countless hours of work by NRA members and staff to make it happen.
That effort goes on day in and day out, even when it’s not in the news. We are at work in the legislatures, the courts, the academy, the media and wherever law-abiding Americans go to educate themselves about firearms and to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
That’s the value the NRA brings to those who cherish the Second Amendment—everyone who supports the NRA with their memberships, their contributions, their volunteerism and their participation in its programs owns a piece of these victories. We function as a team, and we win as a team.
As a native New Yorker, I’m especially pleased that this case arose in the Empire State. New York has some of the country’s most-oppressive firearms laws, and its politicians have recently abused their authority to try to abolish the NRA altogether. This is our chance to confront anti-gun ideologues like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York State Attorney General Letitia James outside of their home turf and in an arena where we stand a fighting chance.
New York law generally prohibits the possession of a loaded firearm outside the home. The only way for New Yorkers to lawfully exercise the right to bear arms in public for self-defense is to obtain a concealed-handgun license. But state law requires license applicants to show “proper cause,” which in turn requires them to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community … .”
In other words, the average, law-abiding applicant who wants to exercise the right to bear arms for self-defense will by definition be denied. Licenses are reserved for extraordinary cases. In practice, this has meant that the rich, the famous and the well-connected might get one, but the ordinary citizen is out of luck. The NYPD Licensing Division has also been known to effectively sell licenses to the highest bidders, while leaving most New Yorkers defenseless.
This presumption of denial flies in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment as “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation” (emphasis added). It’s like saying you’d have to show an extraordinary need to go to church, to write a newspaper editorial or to have a lawyer defend you against criminal charges.
Indeed, New York is an outlier, one of only eight states that subject the right to bear arms to bureaucratic discretion.
The lower federal courts have been divided over this issue. The First, Second, Third and Fourth Circuits have upheld regimes similar to New York’s. The D.C. and Seventh Circuits have declared them unconstitutional. And an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit even went so far as to assert there is no right to bear arms outside the home for self-defense at all. Clearly, the issue is ripe for an authoritative opinion by the nation’s highest court.
The 2016 election may seem like a distant memory, but candidate Donald Trump helped make it a referendum on who would replace the author of the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision on the Second Amendment. The NRA went all-in to support his candidacy, and President Donald Trump (R) would go on to nominate, and a Mitch McConnell-led Senate to confirm, three U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Meanwhile, the NRA’s legal team was painstakingly shepherding Second Amendment cases through the lower courts, intent on restoring the rights recognized in the Heller and McDonald decisions.
Now, the high court is poised to resolve a pivotal Second Amendment question. That’s no coincidence.
We can never guarantee what any court will do. But there’s never been a better time for the issue of bearing arms to reach the justices, with a majority having demonstrated a willingness to take the Second Amendment seriously.
The NRA has long been preparing for this showdown, and we are executing with our A game.