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The Supreme Court Is Poised To Send A Major Signal On Gun Control

The Supreme Court will consider  the constitutionality of a now-repealed New York City gun law.
The Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a now-repealed New York City gun law.

The U.S. Supreme Court will examine gun rights for the first time in nearly a decade on Monday when it hears arguments in a case that could decide whether Americans have a constitutional right to carry a firearm in public.

In the case, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association is challenging a New York City law that severely restricted the transport of firearms outside the home.

The law has been repealed, so the high court could still dismiss the case.

But many on all sides of the gun debate say that New York City’s law was unusually restrictive and the Supreme Court is likely to strike it down.

That ruling could, many gun control advocates worry, throw other gun regulations into question.

Eric Tirschwell, litigation director for the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, says that the plaintiffs are seeking the same right to carry a gun in public that is guaranteed in the home. But, Tirschwell says, “we think the Second Amendment right looks very different in public.”

Tirschwell is concerned that many state laws, including gun licensing and prohibitions on certain types of guns, could be open to challenge if the court decides the Constitution guarantees the right to carry a gun in public.

Advocates of all stripes are eager to see what the court’s decision will signal to lower courts. A decision in the case is not expected until summer.

Precedent: District Of Columbia v. Heller

In 2008, the court affirmed a constitutional right for an individual to keep arms in the home for self-defense in District of Columbia v. Heller. The case established that the Second Amendment did not apply solely to militias, but also to individuals. Two years later, the Supreme Court protected the individual right to own a gun from state regulation in 2010 decision McDonald v. Chicago.

The only guarantee spelled out in the Heller decision authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, however, is the right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense. The decision explicitly left room for further regulation by local, state and federal governments.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited,” Scalia wrote. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Existing prohibitions, such as those preventing felons from owning firearms or against carrying in certain places, were cleared by the court in the Heller decision.

Since the Heller decision, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia have left the court. They were replaced by Justices Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both of whom are generally seen as relatively friendly to gun rights.

Guns & America’s Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this story. Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2021 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

Matthew Richmond

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