The Supreme Court Hears Its First Gun Case in Nearly a Decade

posted on December 3, 2019

Image credit: Cropped photo by Ted Eyton courtesy of Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. vs. City of New York on Monday. This is the first time the high court has accepted and heard argument on a case involving Second Amendment rights since 2010. The Court’s ruling could, theoretically, come at any time, but we are not likely to know the outcome until at least late next month and perhaps considerably longer.

The Court could still, however, avoid the Second Amendment issues and rule the case “moot,” meaning it could decline to rule on the merits because the dispute, which dealt with the transportation of firearms by New York City residents, has already been resolved. This is the outcome the four left-leaning justices on the Court seem to prefer.

“What’s left of this case?” asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“You’re asking us to take a case in which the other side has thrown in the towel and opine on a law that’s not on the books anymore,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

These two left-leaning justices were referring to the fact that New York City largely repealed the disputed law after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The law now no longer restricts the few determined residents of New York City who have jumped through the city’s many hoop to obtain “premises” licenses from taking their legal handguns anywhere but directly to and from an approved gun range located in New York City.

The gun owners who sued “got everything they asked for,” said New York City’s attorney Richard Dearing to the nine justices.

Attorney Paul Clement, who is representing the gun owners (the plaintiffs in the case), pointed out that city laws that are still in effect do restrict the right to take a gun outside the home. This is clearly the case, as New York City all but makes it impossible for normal, law-abiding Americans to exercise their Second Amendment-protected right to bear (as in carry) arms. Even those with “premises” licenses from the City can’t carry their firearms outside the home in a usable condition, and lawful transport of unloaded, encased firearms has to be “continuous and uninterrupted, leading to questions about what sort of necessary stops, if any, the law permits. .

During the hearing, Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, asked about these restrictions on travel with a legal handgun. Dearing responded that no one would be punished for taking brief breaks, such as for coffee or gas. “They are entirely permissible,” he said, even though such decisions would be made at the City’s discretion.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who is widely thought of as the swing vote on this issue, asked if violations of the old law could be used against current gun owners. Dearing said they couldn’t be.

Clement, meanwhile, also argued that the Second Amendment clearly is not a “home-bound right.” From early American history to today, gun owners have always carried their firearms outside their homes. Clement asked the Court to clearly rule that citizens have the right to “bear arms.”

“Read naturally, the right to ‘bear’ firearms includes the right to transport firearms outside the home,” said Solicitor Gen. Noel Francisco in his brief to the court.

While it’s true that courts are only supposed to rule on “live controversies,” there are no assurances that, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules this case moot, the City wouldn’t simply pass another law that would seriously infringe on Second Amendment rights.

The conduct of anti-Second Amendment politicians has, in fact, been so appalling in this case that earlier this fall, five U.S. senators, all Democrats, actually threatened the U.S. Supreme Court justices over this case.

“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” said the brief from the five senators. “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’ Particularly on the urgent issue of gun control, a nation desperately needs it to heal.”

Clearly, it’s time for another ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that the American citizenry’s’ right “to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”


graphic of U.S.
graphic of U.S.

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