The Supreme Court on Monday waded for the first time in nearly a decade into the debate over gun rights, as it heard oral arguments in a dispute over a New York City rule restricting the transportation of licensed handguns.
Brought by three firearms owners who live in New York City and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the case centers around a regulation that barred firearms owners from transporting their handguns to homes or shooting ranges outside city limits.
Since the case was filed, the regulation has been changed, but under the previous rule, gun owners with “premises” licenses were allowed only to transport their unloaded and locked handguns to seven shooting ranges in New York City.
Gun rights advocates and the Trump administration argued the prior restriction violates the Second Amendment and said the right to keep and bear arms includes the right to transport guns outside of the home.
The original and newly changed rule, Paul Clement, who argued on behalf of the gun owners told the justices, is “premised on a view of the Second Amendment as a home-bound right, with any ability to venture beyond the curtilage with a firearm, even locked and unloaded, a matter of government grace.” In legal parlance, curtilage refers to land attached to a house, like a yard or garden.
City officials are urging the Supreme Court, now with a 5-4 conservative majority, to throw out the case altogether because they amended the measure at the heart of the challenge in July. Now, handgun owners can take their licensed firearms to shooting ranges and second homes beyond city boundaries.
Many of the questions during the hour-long oral argument focused on whether the case should be dismissed because the rule in question had been changed.
“What you’re asking us to do is to take a case in which the other side has thrown in the towel and completely given you every single thing you demanded in your complaint for relief, and you’re asking us to opine on a law that’s not on the books anymore,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Clement.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back on the bench after she was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital November 22 after experiencing chills and a fever, said the handgun owners “have gotten all the relief that they sought.”
“So what’s left of this case?” she asked.
The three gun owners and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association, first challenged New York City’s handgun rule in 2013. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled in 2018 that the regulation did not violate the Second Amendment.
In January, the high court announced it would take up the dispute, marking the first time since 2010 the justices would hear a case involving gun rights. In July, New York City officials asked the Supreme Court to drop the dispute since the rule had been changed.
The court in October rebuffed the city’s request to toss out the suit and instead said it would hear arguments on whether it should do so, as well as whether the restriction was unconstitutional.
The dispute is one of several blockbuster cases the Supreme Court will hear this term touching on hot-button issues including immigration and abortion. A decision from the justices is expected by the end of June.