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Supreme Court agrees to hear 2nd Amendment challenge to New York City handgun law

In this Dec. 21, 2018 photo, a woman takes aim at a target on the shooting range at Frontier Justice
The Supreme Court will weigh a strict New York City ordinance that bars a legal owner of a handgun from taking it to a shooting range outside the city.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear its first 2nd Amendment case in nearly a decade and rule on a strict New York City ordinance that bars a legal owner of a handgun from taking it to a shooting range outside the city.

The city says gun owners may seek permits to carry handguns legally if they have good cause, but these permits are hard to obtain.

Alternately, they may obtain a “premises” permit to keep a handgun at home, but that comes with strict regulation. The police department says those with a premises permit may carry the unloaded gun to a shooting range in the city, but not to a range outside the city.

Several gun owners sued to challenge this restriction on carrying a handgun outside the city. One of them sought the right to carry his gun to a vacation home in upstate New York, but lost before a federal judge and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Urging the high court to take up the issue, their lawyer, former U.S. Solicitor Gen. Paul Clement, called the “city’s transport ban an extreme, unjustified and irrational restriction on 2nd Amendment rights. … There is absolutely no evidence that transporting an unloaded firearm, locked in a container separate from its ammunition, presents a material public safety risk.”

The justices said they would hear the case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Assn. vs. New York, but it will probably be considered in the fall. If so, the court will not issue a decision until early in 2020.

While the case could be decided narrowly based on the unusual provisions of the city’s ordinance, the court could rule on the more significant question of whether the 2nd Amendment protects carrying a gun in public.

Until now, the justices have said remarkably little about the 2nd Amendment, other than that it protects the right of a law-abiding individual to have a handgun at home for self defense. In 2008, the court struck down a District of Columbia ordinance that prohibited possession of nearly all handguns in Heller vs. D.C. Two years later in 2010, the court struck down a similarly broad city ordinance in Chicago.

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Since then, it has turned down a series of appeals from gun owners who objected to restrictions on carrying guns in public or who sued over bans on the sale or possession of semiautomatic weapons.

That could change with the addition of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. When Kavanaugh worked on the the federal appeals court in Washington, he dissented from a ruling that upheld the district’s ban on semiautomatic rifles. He said such weapons are in common use nationwide, and therefore should be deemed as protected under the 2nd Amendment.

In upholding the strict New York ordinance, the 2nd Circuit Court said the high court’s Heller decision in 2008 said the “core right” protected by the Constitution was the right to have a handgun at home for self-defense. Its judges said the city and its police department retained the authority to limit the carrying of guns in vehicles or in public.

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