The lawsuit seeks an unfettered right to carry concealed handguns. Lower courts have already rejected its arguments.
The US Supreme Court has stepped back into the heated debate over gun rights, agreeing to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to New York state’s restrictions on people carrying concealed handguns in public in a case that could further undermine firearms control efforts nationally.
The justices on Monday took up an appeal by two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA, an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, of a lower court ruling throwing out their challenge to the restrictions on concealed handguns outside the home.
Lower courts rejected the argument made by the plaintiffs that the restrictions violated the US Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The lawsuit seeks an unfettered right to carry concealed handguns in public.
The case could lead to the most consequential ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment in more than a decade. The court’s 6-3 conservative majority is seen as sympathetic to an expansive view of Second Amendment rights.
A state firearms licensing officer had granted the two gun owners “concealed carry” permits but restricted them to hunting and target practice, prompting the legal challenge.
The debate over gun control in the United States has intensified in the wake of a spate of recent mass shootings. A day after an April 15 mass shooting in Indianapolis in which a gunman killed eight employees at a FedEx facility and then himself, President Joe Biden called gun violence in the United States a “national embarrassment“.
Biden, a longtime advocate of gun control, has taken some steps to tighten federal firearms regulations. But major policy changes would require congressional passage, and Senate Republicans stand in the way of Democratic-backed gun control measures already passed in the House of Representatives.
The case taken by the justices centres on New York’s law on carrying concealed handguns, which requires a showing of “proper cause”. Under the law, residents may obtain licences that are restricted to hunting and target practice, or if they hold certain jobs, such as a bank messenger or correctional officer.
But to carry a concealed handgun without restriction, applicants must convince a firearms licensing officer that they have an actual – rather than a speculative – need for self-defence.
The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, along with two of its members from the upstate capital region, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, sued in federal court. Both men said they “do not face any special or unique danger” to their lives but want to carry a handgun for self-defence.
“We’re confident that the court will tell New York and the other states that our Second Amendment right to defend ourselves is fundamental, and doesn’t vanish when we leave our homes,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
Gun control advocates said that the stakes are especially high given that gun violence has risen during the coronavirus pandemic. A ruling weakening gun control “could make it even harder for cities and states to grapple with this public health crisis,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director of the Everytown Law legal activist group.