Supreme Court to Rule on Gun Law As Mass Shootings Create Outrage

October 10, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Illegal weapons confiscated by police are displayed at Chicago police headquarters on May 10, 2018. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court cast itself back into the emotional gun rights controversy when it put a lawsuit over a New York City ban on the transportation of  firearms on its schedule for its current session.

The New York law bans most transportation of guns by their owners outside their homes. Gun rights advocates call the regulation a violation of their Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

The Supreme Court has stayed out of gun rights issues for the past nine years. All that changed this summer with mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and other places.

In addition, most lower courts have upheld state and local gun ownership restrictions, even when they appeared to conflict with federal case law and statutes. The Supreme Court appears to be ready to clamp down on lower courts that stray too far from federal law.

One of the apparent conflicts comes from the New York City law.

In its original form, the law said gun owners could keep their firearms in their homes or take them to one of seven shooting ranges in the city. They were forbidden from carrying the handguns outside city limits.

In addition, the guns had to be unloaded and locked while they were transported.

Three New York City handgun owners and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association sued to block the city regulation.

When the Supreme Court agreed last January to hear the case, New York City officials changed the regulation to allow guns to be carried by their owners to second homes and shooting ranges outside the city.

After the rule change, city officials asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case. Their petition said the new rule gave gun owners and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association “everything they have sought in this lawsuit.”

But the gun owners disagreed, saying the rule change was a weak attempt to avoid a Supreme Court judgment likely to expand their rights.

More recently, Democratic members of Congress urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case before the hearing scheduled for December 2. They filed a friend-of-the-court brief that warned the Court would suffer a public backlash if it ruled against the New York City regulation.

“The Supreme Court is not well,” the Democrats’ brief says. “And the people know it. 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.”

Some Republicans in Congress interpreted the brief as a threat to pack the Court with more appointees who would allow local restrictions on gun rights.

All 53 Republican senators sent a letter to the clerk of the Supreme Court telling the justices not to be intimidated.

“It’s one thing for politicians to peddle these ideas in tweets or on the stump,” the letter says. “But the Democrats’ amicus brief demonstrates that their court-packing plans are more than mere pandering. They are a direct, immediate threat to the independence of the judiciary and the rights of all Americans.”

They said they would not allow the Supreme Court to be restructured.

They did not take a position on the New York City gun law, only on the threat from the Democrats.

“Americans cannot trust that their constitutional rights are secure if they know that Democrats will try to browbeat this court into ruling against those rights,” their letter says.

The last time the Supreme Court dealt with gun rights was in the landmark 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller and a 2010 decision that extended the ruling to all states.

In Heller, the Court said the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, such as for self-defense within their homes. The case overruled the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and requirement that lawfully owned rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.”

After the ruling, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection reported that U.S. gun deaths surged from 31,500 a year to about 40,000.

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