(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will consider bolstering constitutional gun rights for the first time in almost a decade, agreeing to hear a challenge to New York City rules that sharply limit where licensed handguns may be taken.
The court said it will hear an appeal from three city handgun owners and an advocacy group who say New York has the most extreme firearm-transportation restrictions in the country.
The court is expected to hear arguments in its next term starting in October.
The case may demonstrate the impact of the newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, whose appeals court record suggests he’ll be a more aggressive enforcer of gun rights than the justice he replaced, Anthony Kennedy. In taking the case, the fortified conservative majority could be signaling that it’s ready to take on gun regulations and possibly erect significant barriers to local government restrictions, Second Amendment scholar Adam Winkler of UCLA Law School said.
The court hadn’t taken up a Second Amendment case since it threw out a Chicago handgun ban in 2010. That followed a 2008 decision that for the first time said the Constitution protects individual gun rights.
Justice Clarence Thomas has criticized the court’s refusal to hear gun cases since then, saying the Second Amendment has been relegated to a second-class right.
Outside the Home
The court now could take on gun regulations in at least two ways. It could give the justices an opportunity to expand Second Amendment protections outside of the home, an issue the court left open in its previous decisions, Winkler said.
That would potentially undo longstanding laws on concealed carry and other restrictions, clearing the way for hundreds of thousands of more weapons on the streets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, he said.
Second, the case could also give the justices the chance to clarify what states and local governments must show in order to justify enacting strong gun restrictions, George Mason University law professor Joyce Lee Malcolm said.
Since the court’s 2008 and 2010 decisions, many lower federal courts have either ignored them or issued opinions that fly in the face of the language of those landmark rulings, Malcolm said. This case gives the justices the chance to bring those lower federal courts into sync with the Supreme Court, she said.
Both Malcolm and Winker, however, also said that the court could have taken the case to more narrowly address the New York law, which Malcolm referred to as "particularly egregious."
Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said, however, that even if the justices only address the New York law being challenged in the case, that could have broad implications given that the court grants so few gun cases.
The language in the court’s 2008 decision was cited and analyzed by virtually every court that considered a gun challenge since then, Lowy said. The court’s decision in this case could have a similarly wide reach, no matter how narrowly the justices write that opinion, he said.
Under the New York law, people with a licensed handgun at home may take it to one of seven shooting ranges in the city, but almost nowhere else. Weapons must be locked and unloaded during travel, and ammunition must be put in a separate container.
The residents who are suing say they want to be able to take their handguns to more convenient target ranges outside the city and, in the case of a Staten Island man, to his second home. The residents say the rules undercut their constitutional right to have a handgun in a house or apartment for self-protection.
“The city’s ban on transporting handguns outside city limits is an extreme, unjustified and irrational restriction on Second Amendment rights,” the residents and the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association argued in their appeal.
A federal appeals court in New York upheld the restrictions, saying the residents have sufficient options. The three-judge panel said New Yorkers can go to local shooting ranges, use rented weapons at out-of-town facilities, and acquire additional weapons for second homes.
New York urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case. “The rule does not severely burden or even meaningfully impact the core of the Second Amendment right,” the city argued in court papers.
The city said the restrictions help protect public safety by “better regulating and minimizing the instances of unlicensed transport of firearms on city streets.”
Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is a donor to groups that support gun control, including Everytown for Gun Safety.
The case is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York, 18-280.
(Updates with legal scholars’ comments starting in fourth paragraph.)
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