USA TODAY WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court may be on the verge of expanding gun rights for the first time in nearly a decade. What’s surprising is how it got there.
The court on Monday will hear a challenge to an obscure New York City rule that set such rigid restrictions on transporting legally owned guns that it was repealed in July. But it turns out that wasn’t what they really wanted. Backed by the National Rifle Association and the Trump administration, the challengers to New York’s abandoned restrictions are hoping the high court refuses to declare the case moot. That would give them a chance to win the biggest Second Amendment victory since landmark rulings a decade ago affirmed the right to keep guns at home for self-defense.
Faced with a defunct ban on transporting guns outside city limits, the increasingly conservative court majority could render a decision making clear what some justices believe: that the Second Amendment extends beyond the home, and that lower courts should view state and local limits on carrying guns in public with skepticism.
“This would be a strange case in which to go big,” says Joseph Blocher, a professor at Duke University School of Law and co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law. “Yet the stakes going forward are potentially huge.”
Gun rights groups were surprised in January when the high court agreed to hear the case. Gun control groups were surprised in October when the justices refused to jettison it, even after the city and state erased restrictions that were likely unconstitutional.
Both actions went against the court’s recent modus operandi when it comes to guns: avoidance. Since its 2008 and 2010 rulings striking down gun restrictions in the District of Columbia and Chicago, the court has refused to hear dozens of cases challenging lesser limits on who can own what types of guns, where they can be taken, what requirements must be met and more.
During that time, lower courts have resolved more than 1,000 Second Amendment cases, ruling more than 90% of the time in favor of gun control measures, according to a study by Blocher and Southern Methodist University assistant law professor Eric Ruben.
Since Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 that killed 20 students and six staff members, more than 300 gun safety laws have been passed.
The trend has frustrated gun rights groups as well as conservative justices who say federal and state court judges are not applying a stringent test to most gun restrictions.