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The Latest on the Biggest Second Amendment Case in a Decade

U.S. Flag, U.S. Constitution and a handgun
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on November 27, 2019 1:43 PM

On Dec. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in one of the most highly anticipated cases of the current term. It's a decision that has the potential to greatly expand Second Amendment rights.

You may already be familiar with the basics of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York. The plaintiffs are challenging a New York City ordinance preventing the transport of guns outside of city limits. The case is remarkable for several reasons. While the federal district court and Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city, it remains doubtful the conservative justices will uphold the restrictive ban. The issue seems to be how narrow the Supreme Court ruling will be.

But in July, New York passed a law revoking the prohibition on transporting guns. This prompted the city to request the case be dismissed as moot. In October, the Supreme Court declined to do so but told the parties to be prepared to discuss the issue at oral argument.

The plaintiffs argue that the ban remains problematic, noting that the state law still prevents licensed gun owners from transporting weapons into the city. Since then, the federal government has also argued that the case is not moot, but for different reasons than the plaintiffs – instead stressing that there could still be money damages at issue.

One Plaintiff Had Guns Taken Away in a Separate Matter

Meanwhile, in August of 2018, just two weeks before the plaintiffs first petitioned the Supreme Court, one of the plaintiffs in the case, New York City gun owner Efrain Alvarez, had his guns confiscated by New York City police. Efrain allegedly filed a fraudulent report that one of his guns had been stolen. However, charges were dropped provided Efrain did not have any other arrests for the subsequent six months. Reuters has coverage. Efrain told Reuters that the confiscation of his guns should have no impact on the case. 

The Merits

Despite its refusal to dismiss the case in October, it is still not clear the Supreme Court will decide the case on its merits. Should the justices do so, however, they will decide whether the challengers' argument that the text of the Second Amendment – specifically, the right to “bear" arms - indicates a right to possess a gun outside of the home is valid. In deciding for the plaintiffs, the justices could take this opportunity to expand the rights enumerated in District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that a complete ban on handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment.

The plaintiffs also argue that the prohibition violated the Commerce Clause. If the justices decide in favor of the plaintiffs on the first question, they do not need to reach a decision on this one.

A Closely Watched Case

This Second Amendment case is the biggest since the Supreme Court decided Heller nearly a decade ago. The nation is watching closely. While it remains unlikely the court will uphold the ban as constitutional, the court may still rule the issue is moot. If not, it is not clear how expansive the court will be in its holding.

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