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Supreme Court Shelves Second Amendment Cases—For Now

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear challenges to 10 gun-related cases next term, likely denying for the time being at least the majority-conservative court the prospect of reshaping gun regulations for the first time this decade.

Many court watchers, whether for or against gun regulations, expected the court to take a Second Amendment case this term; several firearm-related cases have been circulating at the justices’ weekly conferences. Gun rights supporters hope the conservative majority will strengthen an individual’s rights to own and carry guns.

By declining to take the appeals, the justices leave intact state gun laws in Maryland, Massachusetts and California.

The Maryland law, for instance, requires residents applying for the permit to carry a handgun outside the home to have a “good and substantial reason.” The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association said that violated the Second Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that Maryland’s permitting system, which includes an appeals board, satisfies the state’s Second Amendment responsibilities. By denying an appeal, the Supreme Court leaves the law in place.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at the UCLA School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, said the 10 rejected cases included some of the most significant Second Amendment legal issues.

“So it’s really hard to imagine that they didn’t take these cases simply because there wasn’t a good case out there,” Winkler said. “It seems rather that they didn’t take a case because neither side of the court — neither the liberal side nor the conservative side of the court — thought that they would get a good opinion from the Supreme Court if it ruled.”

The court dismissed a gun rights case in April challenging a now-repealed New York City law that banned transporting handguns to shooting ranges and second homes outside of city limits. The justices did not rule on the merits of the case, only that the case was moot, and at least four conservative justices signaled the court may take up another firearm-focused case.

It has largely stayed away from ruling on gun regulations over the past decade. In 2008, the court issued the blockbuster District of Columbia v. Heller, which established an individual right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense. Existing prohibitions, such as those preventing felons from owning firearms, were cleared by the court in the Heller decision. It later applied that ruling to the states in 2010 McDonald v. Chicago.

It’s hard to say if the court’s rejection of the cases dealt a blow to gun rights advocates. The justices could decide in a few months to take on a new gun-related case, given that four conservative justices appear ready to do so. But it may also mean that gun rights supporters cannot count on Chief Justice John Roberts.

“Roberts is going to be there for a long time, and they are counting on his vote,” Winkler said. “He voted with them in the Heller case, he voted with them in the McDonald case, and it does not appear he’s with them in future Second Amendment cases.”

June 30 marks the end of the Supreme Court’s term; it will resume in October.

It is still possible, though unlikely, for the court to take up a Second Amendment case next term, according to Jake Charles, executive director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law. The court may be looking for a case to rule on narrow grounds. Or, it may find a case to adjudicate a deep split between circuit court rulings.

“I don’t know,” Charles said. “It’s hard to say why they would take the next one if they didn’t take a single one of these ten.”

Guns & America’s Lisa Dunn 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.

Jeremy Bernfeld is Harvest Public Media’s multimedia editor and is based at KCUR. New to the Midwest, Jeremy joined Harvest in 2011 from Boston where he helped build wbur.org, named the best news website in the country by the Radio Television Digital News Association. He has covered blizzards and tornadoes and the natural disaster that was the Red Sox’ 2011 season. A proud graduate of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Jeremy’s work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the (Falmouth, Maine) Forecaster and on NPR’s Only A Game.

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