Gun Control Cases to Watch at the Supreme Court
What’s next for the Second Amendment at SCOTUS?
The U.S. Supreme Court has not heard a major gun control case since 2010's McDonald v. Chicago, in which that city's handgun ban was struck down for violating the constitutional right to armed self-defense, a right that was itself first recognized by the Court in 2008's District of Columbia v. Heller. In the years since, the Court has had multiple opportunities to weigh the constitutional merits of other gun control laws, but it has declined to hear any of those cases.
Until now. When the Supreme Court reconvenes for its new term in October, a major gun control case awaits the justices. At issue in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York is a New York City law that forbids licensed handgun owners from possessing, carrying, or transporting their weapons outside of their homes. The only exception is for the transportation of such weapons, unloaded and locked in a container, to and from an authorized gun range within the city.
The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association argues that this restriction violates the right to keep and bear arms. The city "bans its residents from transporting a handgun to any place outside city limits—even if the handgun is unloaded and locked in a container separate from its ammunition," the association notes in its brief, "and even if the owner seeks to transport it only to a second home for the core constitutionally protected purpose of self-defense, or to a more convenient out-of-city shooting range to hone its safe and effective use."
The city argues that its restriction is fully consistent with both the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. "The core right protected by the Second Amendment is the right to possess a handgun in the home for purposes of self-defense," the city maintains. Therefore, "the City's premises handgun license rule does not substantially burden petitioners' Second Amendment rights."
Does the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms apply outside of the home? That is the fundamental question facing the Court in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York. How the Court answers that question will have ramifications for the future of gun control laws throughout the nation.
There is another significant case touching on gun rights to watch at the Supreme Court in the days ahead. Last week, the gun manufacturer Remington filed a petition asking the Court to review a March 2019 ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court that allowed families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to move forward with a civil lawsuit against the gun maker whose weapon, the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, was used by the killer.
Here's how the Connecticut Supreme Court described the lawsuit at issue in Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International:
They allege that the defendants knowingly marketed, advertised, and promoted the XM15-E2S rifle for civilians to carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies. Such use of the XM15-E2S, or any weapon for that matter, would be illegal, and Connecticut law does not permit advertisements that promote or encourage violent, criminal behavior.
Such lawsuits against gun makers are generally prohibited by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 (PLCAA), which shields "manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition" from being sued over "the misuse of their products by others." But the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed this particular lawsuit to proceed on the grounds that the PLCAA did not disrupt the state's traditional police power to regulate "advertising that threatens the public's health, safety and morals." The Sandy Hook victims' families, the state high court held, "are entitled to have the opportunity to prove their wrongful marketing allegations" under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Remington wants the Supreme Court to give that ruling a second look. "Because all states have analogous unfair trade practices laws," Remington argues in its petition, "the decision below threatens to unleash a flood of lawsuits nationwide that would subject lawful business practices to crippling litigation burdens." The Supreme Court "must intervene now," Remington maintains, to "correct the Connecticut Supreme Court's misreading of the PLCAA, and prevent a renewed wave of lawsuits of precisely the kind Congress sought to preempt."
If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, now known as Remington Arms Co. v. Soto, and then overturns the state court's ruling, similar state lawsuits against gun makers will be effectively barred nationwide. But if the Court declines to hear the case, and thus leaves the state court's ruling in place, a great many such lawsuits will undoubtedly be filed, thereby opening a major new front in the national debate over guns.