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SCOTUS Sides with Common Sense on Gun Safety—For Now

20.04.28 SOC SCOTUS NYSRPA Blog visuals
Advocates from Giffords, Brady, Everytown, and March For Our Lives braved the rain and cold to stand up for gun safety laws as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the first major Second Amendment case in a decade. December 2, 2019.

Some justices are hungry to issue a broader Second Amendment ruling, one that could put gun safety at serious risk.

This week, the Supreme Court delivered a serious blow to the NRA’s dangerous agenda. In a 6-3 opinion, the Court ruled that New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York—the biggest Second Amendment case to come in front of the Court in years—was moot.

The case involved a dispute over a rule that prevented people from transporting licensed handguns to gun ranges outside New York City. Even though the city took the rule off the books, the Court still heard oral arguments at the end of 2019. On April 27, the Court issued its decision, with six justices ruling that the case was moot.

“What’s left of this case?” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Last December, Giffords joined hundreds of gun safety advocates outside the Supreme Court on oral argument day. We rallied in the rain to send a message to the NRA: gun laws save lives—and they’re constitutional. And our work paid off when the Court chose not to issue a broad ruling jeopardizing a host of gun safety laws.

What this ruling means

Even after NYC took its rule off the books, the New York State affiliate of the NRA continued to press their case against the rule while seeking to expand the stakes of the case. In their oral argument, the NRA pushed for an entirely new Second Amendment framework, one that’s entirely hostile to gun safety laws. Their proposed approach would jeopardize a wide range of gun violence prevention measures that have been upheld by lower courts for years, including concealed carry regulations and assault weapons bans.

By finding the case moot, the justices rejected the NRA’s attempt to use a nonexistent law to advance their extreme agenda. But separate opinions joined by four justices demonstrated that gun safety supporters can’t take our eyes off the Court just yet. These justices indicated an interest in dangerously broadening the Second Amendment—and they may get that chance before long.

The decision—and the dissent

At least for now, the NRA’s radical approach lost at the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs got everything they said they wanted, so there was nothing left for the Court to do. The justices sent the case back to the lower court to decide if there are other claims plaintiffs can pursue.

However, in two separate opinions, four justices—Justices Kavanaugh, Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas—indicated a desire to broaden the scope of the Second Amendment. While none of these justices endorsed the most extreme of the NRA’s arguments, all seem to be searching for a future opportunity to expand gun rights—or even to strike down gun violence prevention laws.

Justice Kavanaugh, who agreed with the majority that the case is moot, wrote a separate concurrence to express “concern” that lower courts are not following his interpretation of the Heller decision, and are wrongly upholding gun regulations. He suggested the Court could take a new Second Amendment case very soon.

Justice Alito wrote a dissent, joined by Gorsuch and Thomas, disagreeing that the case is moot and expressing the same “concern” over lower courts. Justice Alito believes that the repealed rule is unconstitutional as it lacks historical support, and NYC’s “public safety arguments were weak.”

What’s next?

This ruling may have slowed the gun lobby, but it won’t stop them. The NRA continues to advance its deadly interpretation of the Constitution in lower courts across the country, demanding that the right to bear arms be treated like a “super-right” that trumps all other constitutional protections, including the right to live.

By delaying the opportunity to rule on the merits of a significant Second Amendment case, the Supreme Court has given gun safety supporters an opportunity. We must keep fighting to defend our progress—so we’ll be ready when the next case reaches the Supreme Court.

The NRA’s extremist views aren’t shared by the majority of Americans—or even the majority of gun owners. We know that the overwhelming majority of Americans support commonsense violence prevention measures, and we’re not going to stop raising public awareness about lifesaving gun laws, helping defend these laws in court, and rallying gun safety supporters.

Americans understand that the Second Amendment protects both rights and public safety. It’s time for our judges—and the elected leaders who appoint them—to recognize that as well.