A young girl looks on as she attends a vigil for the victims of the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in Grand Army Plaza on August 5, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — A momentous clash over gun rights is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court is slated to hear oral arguments on Monday in a case over a New York City handgun regulation. It marks the first major gun control dispute to reach the Supreme Court since its ideological shift with the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and legal observers are billing it as the biggest Second Amendment case to come before the high court in years.
“[W]hen it comes to Second Amendment doctrine and methodology, the stakes are higher than they’ve been in a decade,” Duke Law School Professor Joseph Blocher wrote on the legal website Scotusblog.
At the heart of the case: a New York City regulation banning the transport of licensed, locked, and unloaded handguns to a home or shooting range outside city limits. (The city has since changed its regulations to remove the travel restrictions, but the legal dispute continues.)
Critics of the regulation are billing the case as a vehicle to broadly target local gun restrictions.
New York City’s rule is “exemplary of a broader push by local governments to restrict Second Amendment rights,” wrote the lawyers representing gun owners challenging the regulation. The case, they said, is an “ideal vehicle for halting the spread of irrational and draconian restrictions on Second Amendment rights.”
In August, 139 members of the U.S. House of Representatives also submitted a brief urging the court to uphold New York City’s policy and to reject “attempts to ratchet up the scrutiny courts apply to gun safety regulations.”
The lawmakers “know first-hand the pain that gun violence has inflicted upon their communities back home and throughout our nation,” they wrote, citing the mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
That brief was joined by three Michigan members of Congress: U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.).
Other states, lawmakers and gun safety advocates, meanwhile, are concerned that a broad ruling from the court could hinder state and local efforts to limit gun violence.
“Petitioners’ arguments in this case would dramatically curtail the flexibility of States to respond to the problem of firearm violence,” says a brief submitted by 12 states and Washington, D.C.
“… Contrary to petitioners’ arguments, neither the Second Amendment, nor the dormant Commerce Clause, nor the constitutional right to travel forecloses States and localities from enacting firearm regulations that are substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest,” the AGs also wrote.
The states that signed on were New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
“I am proud to join with my colleagues to preserve the right for state and local governments to implement common-sense gun safety regulations,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in August.
The President Trump administration and several states are backing the petitioners challenging New York City’s rule. The handgun transport ban “infringes the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second and Fourteenth Amendments,” the Justice Department said in a brief to the Supreme Court.
States backing the gun owners in the case are Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.
New York’s City’s rule “unreasonably restricts its residents,” lawyers representing those states said in a brief to the court. Current laws throughout the country create a “tattered patchwork quilt of protection” that makes it “quite impossible” for average citizens to know the rules surrounding firearm possessions when they travel.
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