Supreme Court weighs New York City gun-rights suit

City, state have already repealed firearms transport ordinance.

Associated Press
Mon, 02 Dec 2019 20:28:29 GMT

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court considered Monday whether to dismiss the first gun rights case it has heard in nearly 10 years, an outcome that would come as a huge relief to gun-control advocates.

The justices heard arguments in a dispute over New York City restrictions on transporting licensed, locked, and unloaded guns outside the city limits. New York has dropped its transport ban, but only after the high court decided in January to hear the case.

Gun-rights groups are hoping a conservative majority fortified by two appointees of President Trump, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, would use the case to expand on landmark decisions from a decade ago.

But the court spent most of the hour trying to determine whether anything is left of the case brought by the National Rifle Association’s New York affiliate and three city residents.

Chief Justice John Roberts sought assurances from the city’s lawyer that New York police would not refuse to issue gun licenses to people who have may have violated the old law.

Richard Dearing, the city’s lawyer, said repeatedly the city would not prosecute people for or deny licenses based on past violations.

The four liberal justices made clear they are likely to vote for dismissal. “So what’s left of this case? Petitioners have gotten all the relief they sought,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the bench for the first time since a recent two-night hospital stay.

Paul Clement, representing the gun owners, said his clients are entitled to an order from a federal court, not just the representations of the city’s lawyer.

In one example, Mr. Clement said it is unclear whether a gun owner headed to a shooting range could stop for coffee or a bathroom break without breaking the law.

His argument appeared to win favor with at least two conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Justice Gorsuch. When Mr. Dearing said coffee and rest stops are permissible, they asked about whether a gun owner would be at risk by stopping at his mother’s house.

For years the NRA and its allies had tried to get the court to say more about gun rights.

The lawsuit in New York began as a challenge to the city’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun outside the city limits, either to a shooting range or a second home.

Lower courts upheld the regulation, but the Supreme Court’s decision in January to step into the case signaled a revived interest in gun rights.

“There is no case or controversy because New York City has repealed the ordinance, and the New York state Legislature has acted to make sure it remains repealed,” said Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel and vice president of the gun control group Brady’s legal action project.

Reflecting the possible high stakes, more than three dozen supporting legal briefs have been filed.

The Trump Administration, 25 mainly Republican states, and 120 members of the House of Representatives are on the side of the gun owners.

A dozen Democratic-led states, 139 House lawmakers, and five Democratic senators are among the city’s backers.

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