Gun rights case may f iz­zle out

High court sig­nals the is­sue ap­pears moot be­cause New York City law on car­ry­ing weapons was re­pealed.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By David G. Sav­age

Supreme Court jus­tices sound ready to dis­miss the law­suit be­cause the is­sue in ques­tion — the right to carry a firearm away from home — is tied to a New York City law that has been re­pealed.

WASH­ING­TON — Gun rights ad­vo­cates want the Supreme Court to up­hold a con­sti­tu­tional right to carry a firearm away from home, but the jus­tices did not sound ready on Mon­day to is­sue such a broad rul­ing in a New York City case.

In­stead, they hinted they would dis­miss the case — New York State Ri­fle & Pis­tol Assn. vs. City of New York — as moot be­cause the city has re­pealed a po­lice reg­u­la­tion that had barred li­censed gun own­ers from car­ry­ing their un­loaded weapons to a shoot­ing range out­side the city.

The tenor of Mon­day’s ar­gu­ment sug­gested the out­come will mark an­other dis­ap­point­ment for cham­pi­ons of the 2nd Amend­ment and a re­lief for gun con­trol ad­vo­cates.

In 2008 and 2010, the jus­tices struck down city or­di­nances in Wash­ing­ton and Chicago that pro­hib­ited the pri­vate pos­ses­sion of hand­guns at home. But since then, the jus­tices have said noth­ing about the scope of the 2nd Amend­ment. They have also turned down chal­lenges to lo­cal and state laws that re­stricted the sale of semi­au­to­matic ri­fles.

This year, gun rights ad­vo­cates were op­ti­mistic about de­feat­ing lo­cal or­di­nances now that Jus­tice Brett M. Ka­vanaugh has re­placed Jus­tice An­thony M. Kennedy, who had been re­luc­tant to strike down most re­stric­tions on firearms.

Fear­ing such a re­sult, New York city of­fi­cials and state law­mak­ers re­acted quickly once the high court agreed this year to hear the chal­lenge to the so-called trans­port reg­u­la­tion. In July, the New York Leg­is­la­ture passed a mea­sure to say gun own­ers may trans­port a firearm to other lo­ca­tions where they are legally au­tho­rized.

The gun own­ers who sued now have been given “ev­ery­thing they asked for,” New York City at­tor­ney Richard Dear­ing told the court.

The lib­eral jus­tices — three of whom are na­tives of

New York City — agreed the case should be dis­missed. “The state says: City, thou shall not en­force the reg­u­la­tions. So what’s left of this case?” Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg asked for­mer So­lic­i­tor Gen. Paul Cle­ment, the at­tor­ney for the gun own­ers.

Cle­ment said the gun own­ers who sued were “en­ti­tled to a dec­la­ra­tion that the trans­port ban is and al­ways was un­con­sti­tu­tional.” Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor scoffed at that idea. “The other side has thrown in the towel,” she said. “You’re ask­ing us to opine on a law that is no longer on the books.”

Chief Jus­tice John G.

Roberts Jr. also ques­tioned what was left of the dis­pute that launched the case. The New York City at­tor­ney as­sured him the city “is clos­ing the book on that old rule” and will not en­force it in any way. Ka­vanaugh lis­tened but asked no ques­tions dur­ing the ar­gu­ment.

The New York City case has drawn wide at­ten­tion be­cause the high court has so far re­fused to clar­ify the scope of the 2nd Amend­ment and the “right to keep and bear arms.”

Gun rights ad­vo­cates were urg­ing the court to rule that the right to “bear arms” in­cludes the right to carry a weapon when leav­ing home. They say that in Cal­i­for­nia and else­where, gun own­ers are re­stricted in car­ry­ing li­censed firearms when they travel.

Cle­ment said the 2nd Amend­ment is not a “home­bound right.” In early Amer­i­can his­tory, it was un­der­stood that gun own­ers would carry their weapon with them, in­clud­ing when serv­ing in a mili­tia. He urged the court to rule that gun rights “are not strictly limited to the premises” of a home. He ac­knowl­edged, how­ever, that the “city has strug­gled might­ily to make this case go away.”

Three of the court’s con­ser­va­tives — Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, Sa­muel A. Al­ito Jr. and Neil M. Gor­such — fa­vor stronger rights for gun own­ers. Both Al­ito and Gor­such ar­gued for the court to rule in the New York case.

“Why is this case moot? Be­cause they didn’t get all that they wanted. They wanted a dec­la­ra­tion that the old law was un­con­sti­tu­tional, pe­riod,” Al­ito told the city’s at­tor­ney.

The out­come will prob­a­bly de­pend on Roberts and Ka­vanaugh. The chief jus­tice pre­vi­ously said the court should be re­luc­tant to is­sue broad rul­ings if it can avoid do­ing so. As an ap­peals court judge, Ka­vanaugh said the 2nd Amend­ment should be read to pro­tect a gun owner’s right to have a semi­au­to­matic weapon. But he has also been quite cau­tious since join­ing the court a year ago.

New York City had two types of gun li­censes, the city’s at­tor­ney ex­plained. The one at is­sue in the case was a “premises li­cense,” which au­tho­rized gun own­ers to have a weapon at home — and to carry it to a shoot­ing range in the city, but not out­side. A sec­ond “carry” li­cense would al­low for car­ry­ing a con­cealed gun.

This case “is about the scope of the premises li­cense,” he said, since the plain­tiffs who sued did not seek a carry per­mit. But New York City, like Los Angeles and San Fran­cisco, re­quires ap­pli­cants to show they have a spe­cial need for car­ry­ing a firearm in public.

Lawyers for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion joined in sup­port of the gun own­ers who chal­lenged the New York City re­stric­tions on trans­port­ing weapons. They urged the court to is­sue a rul­ing to make clear that any such lim­its on car­ry­ing le­gal weapons were un­con­sti­tu­tional.

“In this case, the court should con­firm that the 2nd Amend­ment pro­tects the right of a law-abid­ing, re­spon­si­ble ci­ti­zen to take his firearm out­side his home, and to trans­port it to other places, such as a sec­ond home or a fir­ing range,” So­lic­i­tor Gen. Noel Fran­cisco said in his brief to the court. “Read nat­u­rally, the right to ‘bear’ firearms in­cludes the right to trans­port firearms out­side the home.”

Pho­to­graphs by Drew Angerer Getty Im­ages

AC­TIVISTS rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court dur­ing oral ar­gu­ments in New York State Rif le & Pis­tol Assn. vs. City of New York.

A GUN RIGHTS ad­vo­cate holds up a sign sup­port­ing the 2nd Amend­ment out­side the high court.

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