Topline

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared to be leaning Wednesday toward striking down a New York law restricting concealed carry even as they acknowledged there are some places guns should be prohibited, in a case that could have sweeping implications for how states regulate the carrying of firearms in public.

Supporters of gun control and firearm safety measures hold a protest rally outside the US Supreme … [+] Court as the Court hears oral arguments in State Rifle and Pistol v. City of New York, NY, in Washington, DC, December 2, 2019.


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Key Facts

The justices heard arguments in a challenge to a New York law that prohibits people from carrying concealed handguns unless they have a license, which is only given if the gun owner shows they have “proper cause”—something the petitioners allege infringes on their Second Amendment rights.

Justices including Amy Coney Barrett and Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged there are some “sensitive” places where guns can be banned—which the gun rights petitioners agreed with—with Barrett bringing up the example of Times Square on New Year’s Eve and Roberts noting he can understand regulations around places like “giant stadiums.”

Several justices questioned New York’s argument that it grants more unrestricted licenses for concealed carry in rural areas—as opposed to more densely populated areas like New York City—with Roberts questioning how that’s in line with prior court precedent giving Americans a right to have firearms for self defense.

Justice Samuel Alito suggested New York City citizens should be allowed to carry firearms on the subway late at night, for instance, while Roberts asked New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, “How many muggings take place in the forest?”

Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh also questioned whether the state could leave the question of whether people can exercise their Second Amendment rights to the discretion of individual licensing officers, with Kavanaugh saying that “seems inconsistent” with other constitutional rights, and that he doesn’t “see any real evidence” of higher crime in places with less restrictive laws.

What To Watch For

The Supreme Court typically takes months to rule on the cases for which it holds oral arguments. A decision will be issued by the time the court’s session ends in late June. The court’s ruling could have implications for other states with restrictions on concealed carry, as well as gun regulations more broadly, depending on how the Supreme Court interprets the Second Amendment and its right to “bear arms” in its ruling.

Key Background

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association first filed its lawsuit in 2013, and a district court and appeals court both ruled in favor of New York and let its restrictions stand. It’s the Supreme Court’s biggest gun rights case since 2008, when the court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment grants the right for people to keep guns in their homes, knocking down a law requiring guns to be nonfunctional when they’re stored at home.

Further Reading

Supreme Court To Hear Second Amendment Gun Rights Case (Forbes)

In major Second Amendment case, court will review limits on carrying a concealed gun in public (SCOTUSBlog)

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