Supreme Court may soon relax gun laws as nation reels from massacres

Closed from public view, the judges write opinions and dissents in a dispute that targets a covert carry law in New York that is more than a century old. A narrow ruling might affect only a handful of states with similar laws, but a broader ruling could open a new chapter in constitutional challenges to gun safety laws across the country.

“On a formal level, the Supreme Court’s decision on New York’s gun law does not challenge gun laws limiting the types of weapons or sensitive places individuals can carry weapons,” said Jacob Charles, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke University School of Law.

“But a broader ruling that changes how courts assess gun laws could challenge a wider range of gun regulations, such as the ban on assault weapons and firearms. other restrictions such as a ban on high-capacity magazines,” Charles added.

The deliberations come as the country mourns another tragedy, victims of gun violence plead for more action, and political branches appear forever divided on the way forward.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own and carry guns in their home for self-defense.

After the ruling, however, to the frustration of gun rights advocates, lower courts have relied on the wording of the notice to enforce many gun regulations.

“Nothing, in our view, should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by criminals and the mentally ill, or on laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” Judge Antonin Scalia wrote. for the majority in the Heller case.

With the exception of a follow-up ruling two years later, the judges have largely stayed away from the issue, infuriating gun rights advocates and even some of the judges themselves.

Judge Clarence Thomas said at one point that “the Second Amendment is a disadvantaged right in this court.”

After Amy Coney Barrett took her seat, the court agreed to take up a new case, highlighting the impact of former President Donald Trump’s three nominees on the court.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen concerns a New York law governing licenses to carry handguns concealed in public for self-defense. It requires a resident to obtain a permit to carry a concealed pistol or revolver and demonstrates that there is a “good cause” for the permit. Residents must show that they have a great need for the permit and that they face a “special or unique danger to their lives”.

During oral arguments, the conservative majority court seemed poised to strike down New York’s law as going too far – although it’s always dangerous to gauge the outcome of a case by what judges say in court public. There appears to be broad support for regulations that govern sensitive locations, but the question will be the scope of the ruling and its impact on other laws.
Arguments took place on November 3, months before a mass shooting in a Brooklyn subway carried out by a gunman who put on a gas mask, deployed a gas canister, then began shooting, shooting at least 33 time. In May, a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York; less than two weeks later, another killed 21 children and adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

During the pleadings, several judges asked questions about the regulations for sensitive places, including metros. Paul Clement, an attorney for the National Rifle Association affiliate behind the challenge, argued that New York has “a right to have laws that prohibit having guns in sensitive places” and that it did not challenge these laws.

For her part, liberal judge Elena Kagan pushed Clément for her views on the definition of sensitive places. She was the first to mention the New York subways, asking if they count as sensitive places.

Noting that his clients live outside of New York, Clement said, “I guess I could give the subway cause they’re not in Manhattan. They’re in Rensselaer County.”

Conservative Judge Samuel Alito, perhaps trying to gauge the scope of the eventual opinion, looked at the issue from the perspective of law-abiding people who ride the subway and want to be able to carry a gun to protect.

Alito asked New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood about people returning from work late at night in Manhattan. A doorman, a nurse, someone who does the dishes are all citizens who have to “come home by metro”. Alito suggested that they may have been frightened people but wouldn’t be eligible for a license under New York law.

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“How is this consistent with the fundamental right of self-defense, which is protected by the Second Amendment? ” He asked.

Thomas brought a road atlas to the pleadings, presumably to highlight the extent of the law and how it impacts people living far from busy cities.

“It’s one thing to talk about Manhattan or the New York University campus,” Thomas said. “It’s another thing to talk about the upstate New York countryside.”

Potential impact of court action

Although only a few other states have laws similar to New York’s, these states have some of the largest cities in the country.

And while the mass shootings that have happened since the court began deliberating behind closed doors involve assault weapons, mental health issues and age restrictions more than the court concealment law , a broad opinion could also have an impact on this type of laws.

“The American people have had enough and demand solutions to stop the slaughter,” said Jonathan E. Lowy, vice president, general counsel and chief adviser to the Brady campaign.

“If the Supreme Court adopts the extreme Second Amendment view that the gun lobby advocates, many of these solutions could be taken off the table and we could be forced to live in this nightmare created by the gun lobby. on fire,” he said.

“If the Supreme Court’s self-proclaimed originals ignore the centuries of history supporting New York’s gun safety law and falsely force states to allow more guns in public places, more people will be shot and killed and our right to public safety will be compromised even more danger,” Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown Law, told CNN.

Fresh off Tuesday’s tragedy, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas – a former Supreme Court clerk – pointed to the division on the issue, saying that after tragedies like this “you see politicians trying to politicize it” .

“You see Democrats and a lot of people in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” he told reporters.

“It doesn’t work. It’s not effective and it doesn’t prevent crime,” he said, stressing that it would be better to prosecute “criminals, fugitives and people with mental illness severe”.

Protesters in the Supreme Court case echoed similar sentiments in calling for the New York law to be struck down.

Clement told the justices that the law in question makes it a “crime for a typical law-abiding New Yorker to exercise” a constitutional right.

“Carrying a gun outside homes is a basic constitutional right,” he said. “It’s not an extraordinary action that requires an extraordinary demonstration of need.”

According to the Giffords Law Center, every state, as well as the District of Columbia, allows people to carry concealed weapons in public in one form or another. Twenty-five states now generally allow people to carry concealed weapons in most public spaces without any permits, background checks or safety training.

Eight states, including New York, have “may enact laws,” which grant state officials broad discretion to deny an applicant a license.

But other conservatives are urging the Supreme Court to uphold New York law. J. Michael Luttig, a Republican and former conservative appellate judge, filed a brief in support of the law.

Writing in The New York Times, Luttig and appellate attorney Richard Bernstein said the case “presents a test for this conservative Supreme Court.”
He noted that “historically and traditionally” legislatures have restricted the public carrying of firearms and that the District of Columbia bans handguns in public in many places, referring to the January 6, 2021 attack. against the US Capitol.

“Two days before the Capitol Riot, the then-incumbent district police chief publicly warned protesters that they would be jailed if they brought their handguns to the protest,” they wrote, noting that a “vast majority” had heeded the warning and left their firearms behind. residence.

“If the district’s strict restrictions on public transportation had not been on the books, there would undoubtedly have been even more lives lost and more chaos on January 6,” they said.

Additional challenges before SCOTUS

As the justices consider the Bruen case, they have yet to act on several Second Amendment cases piling up on the court docket — presumably left on hold until the current case is decided.

One involves a challenge to a New Jersey ban on magazines holding 10 or more rounds. Another concerns Hawaii’s open carry law.

RELATED: Federal Appeals Court Says States Can Restrict Open Carry of Firearms

Just last week, the justices met in their closed-door conference to discuss a challenge to Maryland’s assault weapons ban.

“Firearms banned by Maryland – AR-15s and other similar semi-automatic rifles,” say the challengers, “are legal in the vast majority of states, they have common features, and law-abiding Americans possess at least minus 20 million of them.”

The Supreme Court has yet to respond to the petition.

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