The Supreme Court announced on Monday it would take the first gun-carry case in its history.
The Court agreed to hear a case challenging New York’s restrictive gun-carry law. The case, filed by New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and backed by the NRA, argues New York’s refusal to grant gun-carry permits to law-abiding residents on the basis of self-defense violates the Second Amendment. It is the first case dealing with gun carry outside the home to be considered by the Court.
The case’s outcome will have massive implications for gun laws across the country. If the Supreme Court decides to strike down New York’s restrictive law, it could create a cascade effect toppling restrictive gun-carry laws in several other states, including California and New Jersey. In addition to New York, seven other states currently use a “may-issue” approach to gun-carry permits, which allows government officials to deny permits even when the applicant passes a background check and finishes the required training. Those may-issue states are also disproportionately populous, making up more than a quarter of the U.S. population.
The Court could also set a new standard for deciding important questions in other Second Amendment cases, something gun-rights advocates have long wanted.
The case is the culmination of more than 11 years of legal activism by gun-rights supporters. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the merits of a substantial gun case since its landmark decisions in Heller and McDonald, where it found the Second Amendment protected the right to own common firearms, including handguns, for self-defense inside the home. Gun advocates have long pursued, and gun-control advocates long feared, a case expanding that recognition beyond the home. The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg last fall raised hopes the Court would finally address the issue again.
The Court considered another gun case out of New York last year but ruled it was moot after the state changed its law to give plaintiffs what they wanted. New York has not yet tried a similar move to avoid the gun-carry case.
All six justices appointed to the Court by Republicans have issued opinions in favor of extending Second Amendment protections in their careers. Four of the justices have also publicly chastised the court for not taking more Second Amendment cases. Justice Clarence Thomas has slammed the Court multiple times for treating the Second Amendment differently from other constitutional amendments. Last year, he described the Court as ignoring the issue.
“This Court would almost certainly review the constitutionality of a law requiring citizens to establish a justifiable need before exercising their free speech rights,” Thomas wrote in a dissent when the Court refused to hear any of a collection of different gun cases. “And it seems highly unlikely that the Court would allow a State to enforce a law requiring a woman to provide a justifiable need before seeking an abortion. But today, faced with a petition challenging just such a restriction on citizens’ Second Amendment rights, the Court simply looks the other way.”
Gun-rights and gun-control groups have long viewed the Court as favorable to revisiting the gun issue and broadening the current limits of Second Amendment protections. They have been engaged in a decade-long legal battle over whether cases even make it to the High Court.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association argued in its petition that it is time for the Court to end the dance.
“Perhaps the single most important unresolved Second Amendment question after this Court’s landmark decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller, and McDonald v. City of Chicago, is whether the Second Amendment secures the individual right to bear arms for self-defense where confrontations often occur: outside the home,” the group said in its petition. “The text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment and this Court’s binding precedents compel the conclusion that the Second Amendment does indeed secure that right.”