Supreme Court Hears First Major Gun Rights Case in Nearly a Decade

Supreme Court Hears First Major Gun Rights Case in Nearly a Decade
A file photo of a gun. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a case over a New York City rule restricting the transportation of licensed handguns. The first major Second Amendment gun control case to reach the high court since 2010.

Brought on by three gun owners who live in New York City and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA), the case centers around a regulation that outlawed transporting a handgun from inside the city to outside the city, even if the weapon is licensed, locked, and unloaded. That means licensed handgun owners could not legally carry their guns to a vacation home, shooting ranges, or competition locations outside of the city limits.

In a petition presented to the court (pdf), the NYSRPA calls the NYC law "an extreme, unjustified, and irrational restriction on Second Amendment rights." The plaintiffs argue that the restriction is a violation of the Second Amendment, because the right to keep and bear arms includes the right to transport guns outside of the owner's home.

The plaintiffs first challenged NYC's handgun regulation in 2013. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled in 2018 that the regulation did not violate their Second Amendment rights.

With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy last year, the Supreme Court now has a 5-4 conservative majority. Knowing that a Supreme Court decision against NYC's gun law could adversely affect gun control laws in other states, New York lawmakers took a strategic move to challenge the law before the Monday hearing. The regulations were loosened to allow licensed handguns to be transported "to a home, business, or shooting range outside city limits."

The NYC officials urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit all together as the challenge became irrelevant after the laws changed. The argument was welcomed by some Democrat-appointed justices including Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

"What you're asking us to do is to take a case in which the other side has thrown in the towel and completely given you every single thing you demanded in your complaint for relief, and you're asking us to opine on a law that's not on the books anymore," Justice Sotomayor said during the plaintiff's opening argument (pdf).

Justice Samuel Alito, however, did not seem to agree that the plaintiffs got exactly what they wanted.

"They wanted a declaration that the old law was unconstitutional, period," said Justice Alito. "And what they have obtained as a result of the new city ordinance and the new state law is a rule that says, yes, you can take the firearm to a firing range outside of New York City, but it must be a direct trip."

A decision from the justices is expected by the end of June 2020.