Justices Toss New York Case That Could Have Expanded Gun Rights
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday tossed one of its most closely-watched cases of the term, claiming a subsequent easing of the restrictions being challenged — a ban on transporting guns — effectively left them with nothing to decide.
The decision is a blow to gun rights advocates who had hoped President Donald Trump’s appointment of two conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, could lead the court to expand on landmark decisions from the Antonin Scalia era that established a Second Amendment right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.
That belief may have been based on Kavanaugh’s writing in 2011, when he was still a U.S. Circuit Judge, gun laws “that are not longstanding or sufficiently rooted in text, history, and tradition are not consistent with the Second Amendment individual right.”
The case involved a New York City law that made it illegal for a city resident who lawfully owned a gun to transport it outside city limits. Following its adoption, the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association sued, arguing the law was a clear violation of the Second Amendment.
The NRA sought to block enforcement of the rule insofar as it prevented the transport of firearms to a second home or shooting range outside of the city.
Gun control advocates worried a decision in the NRA’s favor would open a Pandora’s box, leading to a loosening of restrictions on everything from who can carry guns in public to limits on large-capacity ammunition.
Hoping to prevent this both New York City and New York State took steps to undermine the lawsuit. The city changed its regulation to allow licensed gun owners to transport their weapons to locations outside New York’s five boroughs, but the state enacted a law barring cities from imposing similar restrictions.
Despite these moves, the justices went ahead with oral arguments in December. But on Monday, it was the control advocates who were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
In a 6-3 unsigned ruling a majority of the court said the actions by the city and state had left them with nothing to decide.
They sent the matter back to the lower court, asking it to consider whether the city’s new rules still violated the gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.
Gorsuch joined Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissenting from the dismissal.
“This case is not moot. The City violated petitioners’ Second Amendment right, and we should so hold,” Alito wrote for the dissenters.
Kavanaugh wrote a brief concurring opinion in which he agreed with the result, but also said he’s concerned lower federal courts are not properly applying the court’s recent gun rights decisions.
“The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases” pending at the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh wrote.