WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a challenge to New York’s gun licensing requirements that could expand protections for carrying concealed weapons in public, putting a major Second Amendment dispute on the docket for the first time in years.
The nation’s highest court overruled handgun bans in Washington and Chicago in 2008 and 2010 in two blockbuster cases that affirmed the rights of Americans to possess guns in their homes but left unanswered questions about carrying in public. The court has largely skirted that and other Second Amendment issues since then.
In that time, the court has grown more conservative and several of the justices have signaled a desire in their dissents to address unresolved questions about guns rights. President Donald Trump’s three nominees to the court have given conservatives an ostensible 6-3 edge, assuming the justices break along ideological lines.
The court passed earlier this month on three challenges to a federal ban on gun ownership for people convicted of nonviolent crimes, disappointing Second Amendment advocates who hoped a more conservative court would begin to chip away at the restriction.
The New York case made its way to the court amid a series of recent mass shootings, including in Colorado, Georgia and Indiana. It’s not clear whether such events weigh into the decision to take a case or not because the court generally doesn’t say.
The landmark 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 specifically nodded to the right to own a gun for lawful purposes, like self-defense within the home.
“Handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid,” the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in that decision.
In the New York case, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch applied for licenses to carry guns outside the home. But they were rejected for failing “to show ‘proper cause’ to carry a firearm in public for the purpose of self-defense.”
They challenged the decision with a lawsuit against Keith Corlett, the superintendent of state police at the time. They asserted that the state rules on gun licensing would deem carrying a weapon “a crime unless one can preemptively convince a state that she enjoys an especially good reason for wanting” to do so.
“Good, even impeccable, moral character plus a simple desire to exercise a fundamental right is, according to these courts, not sufficient,” Nash and Koch told the court. “Nor is living or being employed in a ‘high crime area.'”
State officials defended the licensing law, which dates to 1913, as stemming from an Anglo-American tradition of regulating firearms outside the home. Nash and Koch received restricted licenses typically given for hunting, target shooting or employment.
“Under New York’s law, applicants who seek an unrestricted license to carry a concealed handgun in public must establish ‘proper cause,'” which means a non-speculative need for self defense, state officials told the court.