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The Supreme Court, which began its term last week, is slated to hear arguments Nov. 3 on a case that could redefine an individual’s right to bear arms in public.
The case is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett, involving a New York law that mandates applicants present a “proper cause” to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.
Robert Sedler, a recently retired professor of constitutional law at Wayne State University, said the court could “render a major decision on the Second Amendment” and affect how Michigan approaches gun policy in the future since the language in both the Michigan and U.S. constitutions is similar.
“It’s not as if the Michigan Constitution provides any more protection than the Second Amendment,” Sedler said. “As a practical matter, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases will affect gun rights in Michigan. … That’s why these cases are very important.”
The case was originally brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association in addition to two New York residents, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, who were denied permits to carry a concealed gun in public for self-defense reasons because they did not present a “special need for self-protection” over other citizens.
A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that the two residents did not present “proper cause” to receive the permit since their lives were not in any specific danger. The plaintiffs then filed a petition for the Supreme Court to take up the case since they believe the previous rulings were “untenable.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has come out in support of the plaintiffs.
New York is one of eight states plus the District of Columbia that allows an issuing authority to deny a person’s application for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public.
Michigan is currently one of 11 states where an issuing authority has no discretion to deny a concealed weapons permit to a person who meets basic requirements, such as not being mentally ill or a convicted felon.
Christopher Smith is board chair for the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and professor on the U.S. Supreme Court, judicial policymaking, and constitutional rights at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice. He said that although Michigan’s relaxed rules to obtain a permit may exclude the state from the specific effect of the upcoming ruling, it could have a broader impact if individual gun rights are expanded.
“The big thing for observers from a place like Michigan is curiosity about how the definition of the individual right under the Second Amendment may be broadened and redefined,” Smith said. “[Specifically] if it’s broadened and redefined in terms that would invite challenges to other kinds of laws or broaden [and] redefined in a way that would preclude future legislation aiming to increase gun safety. Seems to me those are the biggest potential impacts for Michigan rather than the impact on the specific laws in those eight states [and the District of Columbia].”
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 1,212 people die by guns in Michigan in an average year. Michigan ranked 31st in highest gun death rates in the country.
A majority of Americans support having some type of gun control regulation. In Michigan, a survey by the nonprofit gun control group Giffords found that an overwhelming majority supported universal background checks.
The Supreme Court’s last major decision regarding the Second Amendment was in 2008 with a 5-4 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment grants the right for a person to have a handgun in their home for self-defense. Heller was the first case to broaden the scope of an individual’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.
The high court did not issue a ruling in a case last year regarding a New York City policy banning the movement of a handgun that was licensed, locked, and unloaded to a home or shooting range outside of the city. The policy was stripped by city and state officials which subsequently left no reason for the court to make a ruling.
The Supreme Court now has a 6-3 right-wing majority. New Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, both appointed by former President Donald Trump, issued dissents in favor of expanding the scope of the Second Amendment in previous lower court decisions.
Sedler said despite the court’s partisan lean, it’s difficult to predict how the justices will rule.
“The assumption is that conservative justices would be supportive of the Second Amendment,” Sedler said. “I think what you have [is] a court that’s more conservative than it was in 2008, [and] the court is faced with the 2008 precedent that talks about controls and limitations on concealed weapons permits. So I think it’s very difficult to make a prediction.”
Third Circuit U.S. Appeals Court
The Supreme Court case also comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will be hearing a case on a Pennsylvania law this term that restricts the granting of a concealed-carry permit to people who are 21 or older.
The plaintiffs in Lara v. Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police are asserting that the law violates Second Amendment rights for those aged 18 to 20.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined 19 other attorney generals in filing an amicus brief arguing to secure the law. The group of attorneys general stated that states retain the right to put in place age-based firearm regulations to protect the public and decrease gun violence.
Nessel said in a press release that states should have the ability to enact laws regulating the age at which a person can get a permit to obtain a firearm.
“States have the right and responsibility to protect our residents against harm by enacting laws and policies,” Nessel said. “That includes recognizing that preventing people under the age of 21 from legally obtaining firearms is common sense regulation.”
Michigan currently prohibits people younger than 21 from being able to receive a permit to have a concealed firearm in public. People 18 and older can be issued a license to purchase a handgun, but to purchase a gun from a federal dealer, a person must be 21 or older.
Smith said that if the case were to be eventually taken up and ruled on by the Supreme Court, the case could have a significant impact on both current Michigan and federal laws.
“If the Supreme Court were to strike down that age requirement across the board, it would have an impact on Michigan with concealed carry permits and it would have a broader national impact because federally licensed gun dealers are supposed to sell to people who are 21 and they might no longer be under that restriction,” Smith said. “Even though people at 18 in Michigan under state law can buy a pistol, they need a purchase license, they can’t buy one from a federal dealer. So I think this age thing is interesting, and it bears watching and it would have some impact.”
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