Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear it’s first Second Amendment case in almost a decade. Since the Court’s landmark decisions in Heller, which found a constitutional right for private citizens to own firearms and McDonald, which held that the provisions of the Second Amendment apply to the states as well, the Court has refused to grant a writ of certiorari, or judicial review, to Second Amendment cases. The Court’s granting of review to New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York is important not only for the potential advancement of gun rights, but a win for the plaintiffs would also highlight the significance of President Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court.
New York prevents individuals from owning firearms without a license. New York grants citizens one of two types of handgun licenses: a “carry” license and “premises” license. This case involves the latter, which permits the licensee to “have and possess in his dwelling” a firearm, be it a handgun or a revolver.
A “premises” license is specific to a particular address. Firearms that are licensed to specific premises are not allowed to be transported outside that address except in a few limited circumstances. One of the legally prescribed circumstances is transporting a firearm to an “authorized small arms range/shooting club, unloaded, and in a locked container, the ammunition to be carried separately.” All authorized small arms ranges/shooting clubs are in New York City.
Three individuals, who had premises licenses, wanted to transport their firearms to shooting ranges and competitions that were outside city limits. One of the individuals also wanted to transport his firearm to his second home in Hancock, NY. Under NY law, both are prohibited transportations. The three individuals, along with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, brought a suit against NY claiming that the city’s restrictions were unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The District Court ruled against the plaintiffs, claiming that the NY law “merely regulates rather than restricts the right to possess a firearm in the home and is a minimal, or at most, modest burden on the right.” The court also held that the rule did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause, the First Amendment right of expressive association, or the fundamental right to travel. The District Court’s position was upheld by Second Circuit.
While the Heller decision found a constitutional protection for private citizens to possess firearms, it did leave room for regulatory laws. The question that the Court will have to address is whether the NY travel restrictions on firearms are too stringent, thereby infringing on the right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment and upheld in Heller.
I believe it does.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the Second Amendment grants citizens the ability to possess firearms so that they can protect themselves from the threat of government or from coercion by criminals. In Heller, the Court upheld this originalist understanding of the Second Amendment. The Court further held that to “bear” arms meant to “carry” arms. In Muscarello v. United States, Justice Ginsburg wrote that carrying arms was meant for the purpose of “being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.” The Court upheld this understanding of carrying arms.
The lower court’s understanding that the NY law merely “regulates” but does not “restrict” is difficult to understand. The Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms so that individuals can be secure in their property anywhere and everywhere. If firearms must be confined to a specific location or are only allowed to be transported to certain designated locations, citizens forfeit their ability to defend themselves and their property outside of their home or designated ranges and guns. This reality does not conform to an originalist understanding of the Second Amendment, nor does it conform to Heller’s understanding of keeping and bearing arms. A win for the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association would advance individual gun rights and would send a message to the lower courts that the Second Amendment ought not to be tampered with unduly restrictions.
A win for the plaintiffs would not only be a win for the Second Amendment, but would also be a win for President Trump. President Trump promised to appoint judges who would uphold an originalist understanding of the Constitution. With the appointments of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the Court, he has succeeded, giving the Court a solid 5-4 conservative majority.
A win in favor of the plaintiffs would bolster the White House’s agenda of appointing originalist judges and justices.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.