December 2, 2019

Today the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc v. City of New York, New York. It's been over 10 years since SCOTUS has heard a gun rights case. Today's involves a gun organization challenging a New York City ordinance that limited transporting guns outside of city limits — one that has already been repealed.

So, the focus today was less on the Constitutionality of the ordinance itself, and more on whether the challenge even needed to be brought. The gun rights proponents wanted the case to go forward, insisting the now-defunct ordinance still restricted them in some ways, and the counsel for New York City said, basically, "This is ridiculous. The law doesn't even exist anymore." But the newly conservative-majority SCOTUS agreed to hear it, so here we are.

Pete Williams, Justice Reporter for MSNBC, summarized the proceedings.

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think this is going to turn out to be what either people feared or hoped. You're right, it was the first case about the Second Amendment that the Court has agreed to take since 2008 when they said for the first time in our history that the Second Amendment does provide an individual right to have a handgun at home for self defense. So, what about taking the gun outside? That's what this New York ordinance would have restricted, but it has been wiped off the books. The big issue today is, is there anything left in this case? It did seem like the majority of the Supreme Court is prepared to answer that question, no.

There was a lot of discussion about whether the people who sued here, these are gun owners who wanted to take their guns to gun ranges or shooting competition outside the city limits, or the second homes are still faced with some restrictions, like does the trip have to be continuous, can they stop for coffee, can they stop to take a bathroom break, or to gas up the car? The plaintiffs, the people who brought this lawsuit in the first place said yes, they think those restrictions are still in place, and that's enough to keep the lawsuit alive. But the lawyer for New York City told the justices today that no, nobody is going to be penalized if they stop for coffee on the way to a shooting range in New Jersey. So, it just didn't seem like there is enough justices here concerned enough about this to want to delve into the Second Amendment, deeper issues here.

RUHLE: Then, how exactly did this case make its way up the Supreme Court?

WILLIAMS: That's a good question. The very fact that the Supreme Court was willing to put this case on the calendar after the city repealed it is the reason why advocate of gun rights were optimistic. They thought, well, with Justice Kennedy gone, replaced by Justice Kavanaugh, perhaps it's a sign that the Supreme Court is ready to delve into the Second Amendment issue. And remember, after ruling in 2008 about the individual right, the Court repeatedly brushed aside challenges to gun laws on open carry, assault weapons bans, and that kind of thing. Didn't want to take a gun case, and now it did. So, that was a sign that some thought maybe they're ready to get into this. I think there was enough concern that the courts just don't like it when someone tries to game the system here, and clearly New York repealed the law just to keep the case away from the Supreme Court. Sometimes that's enough for the case to be heard anyway, but it does not seem like it would be in this case.

Even if this case ends up "fizzling out," as Pete Williams seems to indicate he thought it would, there are many Second Amendment cases in the pipeline just begging to be heard by this stolen-majority conservative Supreme Court. Just the fact that they agreed to hear it is ominous enough.

On the plus side, there is this tweet:

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