“Bring it on…” Those are words that are likely on the minds and lips of millions of gun owners, as the Supreme Court takes on its first 2nd Amendment challenge in decades.
The Court has begun hearing arguments in a dispute between a gun advocacy group and New York over a statute that restricted the transportation of firearms outside of city limits — even when the owner is properly licensed, and the gun is locked in a travel case and unloaded.
The city’s statute was later amended, to try to skirt a SCOTUS battle that they were likely to lose — but the court heard arguments over the original measure anyway, in a case that could have major ramifications for how states, cities, and municipalities, draft and enforce local gun laws.
The fact that the high court even considered the case — New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York — prompted a stunning complaint earlier this year from Democratic senators, who filed a brief essentially threatening to pack the court with liberal judges if the case were heard.
The warning underscored what could be at stake in the current case.
The Supreme Court has not issued a significant gun rights decision since 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller — which recognized the right to possess a firearm for purposes such as home protection.
The law in question said city residents could apply for a “premises” license to keep a firearm in their home, but they had to keep the weapons at home. Licensees were permitted to take their guns to one of the seven authorized city shooting ranges if kept in a locked container. The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association fought the law, claiming it was unconstitutional to keep people from bringing their weapons to second homes or ranges outside of the city.
While the court agreed to hear the case, New York City amended the regulation following a change in state law, removing prohibitions against transporting locked, unloaded, licensed firearms to homes, shooting ranges, or competitions outside the city. The city and its supporters claimed that the change ultimately makes the case moot.
Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor appeared to agree.
“The Petitioners have gotten the relief that they sought,” Ginsburg noted during Monday’s arguments. Sotomayor told the plaintiff’s attorney Paul Clement that this was “a case in which the other side has thrown in the towel and completely [given] you every single thing you demanded in your complaint for relief…”
Clement argued this was not the case, and that the new law is still unclear because while it permits “continuous and uninterrupted” transportation of firearms on their way out of New York City, it does not address what would happen if a gun owner, for instance, takes a coffee or bathroom break along the way.
Sotomayor noted this is an issue with the new law, not the old one at the center of this case. The new law has yet to be reviewed by lower courts. Justice Stephen Breyer also said he believes that people who stop for coffee while transporting guns would not be prosecuted.
What the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association really wants is for the court to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the old law, which could impact future legislation.
Clement claimed that a ruling was necessary to send a message regarding the unconstitutionality of limiting the transportation of firearms, which could prevent future prohibitions from going forward.