The Supreme Court took up a major Second Amendment case Monday that tests state governments’ authority to restrict who can legally carry a concealed firearm.
A pair of New York residents brought the challenge to state rules requiring applicants to show a specific self-defense need or “proper cause” to obtain a concealed carry permit.
Gun rights groups see the case as a chance to bat down increasingly strict gun control laws pushed by Democratic lawmakers and potentially expand the rights of an armed citizenry.
“This sets the stage for the Supreme Court to affirm what most states already hold as true, that there is an individual right to self-defense outside of the home,” the National Rifle Association said in a statement praising the court’s move.
At least six other states have requirements similar to New York’s on the books: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, according to an analysis by Duke University law professor Jacob Charles.
Mr. Charles predicted that the 6-3 conservative majority on the bench would hand down a pro-Second Amendment decision.
“I suspect the court is going to say there is some sort of Second Amendment right to carry guns outside the home,” he said.
If the high court does overturn the New York law, then it would open the door to ending similar restrictions in other states.
Gun control activists chided the high court for agreeing to hear the case.
“The Supreme Court’s willingness to take up this case is a reckless response to our nation’s grief and could take us in the completely wrong direction by restricting common-sense gun safety regulation,” said Hannah Shearer, litigation director with the liberal-leaning Giffords Law Center.
“Today’s announcement is a warning sign that our nation’s highest court is poised to brush aside the will of the people and instead side with gun lobby groups seeking to eliminate even the most modest firearm laws,” she said.
The case will put the highly partisan issue on the steps of the high court during its next term, which begins in October. It also arrives as liberals intensify calls to add left-wing justices to the high court, arguing that the 6-3 conservative majority has politicized the bench.
At least four justices voted to hear the New York concealed carry case.
Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, both residents of Rensselaer County, New York, filed the lawsuit challenging the state regulation after having their concealed permit applications denied.
Mr. Nash and Mr. Koch both had firearms training, and Mr. Nash pointed to a string of robberies in his neighborhood for the need to carry a gun.
But the county’s licensing officer, Richard McNally, gave the men the same reason for rejecting their applications. He said Mr. Nash and Mr. Koch “failed to show ‘proper cause’ to carry a firearm in public for the purpose of self-defense because he did not demonstrate a special need for self-defense that distinguished him from the general public.”
They brought the case to the justices after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, saying the men did not show they “face any special or unique danger to [their] life.”
New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, a gun rights group with thousands of members including Mr. Nash and Mr. Koch, argues that the Second Amendment extends to the right to possess a firearm outside the home.
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said his organization was “ecstatic” to hear that the justices will hear the case.
“It is very important for the people of New York state, who are looking to restore the Second Amendment rights to the people of New York, to have them equal to the other 42 or 43 states that have concealed carry permits,” he said.
Paul Clement, an attorney for the association and the men, did not respond to a request for comment. In court documents, he said the Constitution and the nation’s history show Americans have the right to carry guns outside their homes.
“The Second Amendment does not exist to protect only the rights of the happy few,” he said. “A law that flatly prohibits ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying a handgun for self-defense outside the home cannot be reconciled with the court’s affirmation of the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”
The state of New York told the justices that they should not hear the challenge because the state has regulated firearm licenses for more than a century.
“The law has existed in the same essential form since 1913 and descends from a long Anglo-American tradition of regulating the carrying of firearms in public,” the state argued in court papers.
Attorneys for New York also said the state’s standard for approving licenses is “flexible” and “numerous New York residents have successfully satisfied” the requirements.
The New York attorney general’s office did not return a request for comment about the justices’ decision to take up the lawsuit.
Pro-gun activists have been frustrated over the justices’ ducking Second Amendment cases in recent years, reasoning that it has been more than a decade since the Supreme Court handled a major gun rights case.
The court declined to review 10 cases on the Second Amendment last year, said A.E. Dick Howard, a law professor at the University of Virginia.
The justices were set to rule on another lawsuit out of New York in 2020 that considered whether a rule restricting people from transporting licensed handguns outside of New York City was constitutional. The court later dismissed the challenge as moot because the state eliminated the prohibition.
Mr. Howard also predicted that the court will broaden Second Amendment rights.
“The court’s more conservative members have been eager to take more Second Amendment cases,” he said. “Enlargement of Second Amendment rights will likely be incremental, rather sweeping. But enlargement it will surely be.”
In 2008, the high court decided District of Columbia v Heller, holding that the Second Amendment protected the right to own a firearm in the home. The New York lawsuit could extend that right outside the home.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that weighed the impact of the Heller case. He authored a dissent, arguing that Washington’s gun registration requirement and its ban on semi-automatic rifles were unconstitutional.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, another Trump appointee, has been viewed as a friend to gun rights groups after she authored a dissent arguing that nonviolent felons shouldn’t be stripped of their right to possess a firearm for life.
A decision on the concealed carry case is expected by the end of June 2022.