The U.S. Supreme Court will take up the first major Second Amendment case in more than a decade, deciding whether the U.S. Constitution protects the right of Americans to obtain a permit to carry a handgun in public.
It will be the first major gun rights case to come before the Court since District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) and a chance for former President Donald Trump's appointees and the supposed 6-3 "conservative majority" on the Court to strike down restrictions on the right of Americans to bear arms in public.
The case also comes at a time when President Joe Biden's administration is seeking to implement new gun control measures via executive order as he pressures Congress to address a "gun violence public health epidemic" in the wake of several mass shootings this year.
In the Heller decision, the Supreme Court majority said that Americans have a Second Amendment right to keep handguns and other operational firearms in their homes for protection. Two years later in McDonald, the Court held that the 14th Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense applicable to the states.
This new case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Keith Corlett, asks if a New York law that requires state residents to show "proper cause" and a "special need for self-protection" in order to obtain a concealed carry permit unconstitutionally infringes on the right to bear arms.
The suit was brought by Robert Nash and Brendan Koch, two men who applied for licenses to carry handguns for self-defense and were denied, in partnership with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. A district court ruled that neither man had proper cause to obtain a concealed carry permit in New York because neither had "any special or unique danger to [their] life."
A federal appeals court later upheld the lower court's decision to deny Nash and Koch permits to carry handguns.
The NYSRPA and the National Rifle Association asked the Supreme Court in December to take up the case.
"Good, even impeccable, moral character plus a simple desire to exercise a fundamental right is, according to these courts, not sufficient," Paul Clement, the former solicitor general for President George W. Bush's administration and the attorney representing plaintiffs Nash and Koch, wrote in his brief. "Nor is living or being employed in a 'high crime area.'"
Clement argues that the New York law makes it unconstitutionally difficult for a state resident to obtain a permit to carry a handgun and asks the Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.
"As this Court made clear in both Heller and McDonald, the Second Amendment, at its core, guarantees a right to keep and bear arms for self-defense," he wrote. "Like the threats that might precipitate a need to act in self-defense, that individual and fundamental right necessarily extends beyond the four walls of one's home."
New York Attorney General Letitia James asked the Supreme Court to decline to hear the case, arguing that New York's law was consistent with the precedents in Heller and McDonald. She noted that the Court in McDonald said its decision should not "be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions," pointing out that New York's law was passed in 1913.
The state law is "supported by a centuries-old tradition of state and local measures regulating the carrying of firearms in public," James argued.
"New York's law directly advances the State's compelling interests in protecting the public from gun violence," she added.
New York state is notorious for having some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, being one of only eight states that "may issue" a concealed carry permit after making a judgement call about an applicant. Other states "shall issue" concealed carry permits to applicants that meet state requirements. New York does not recognize out-of-state concealed carry permits and in some counties comprising New York City, there is effectively no right to carry a firearm in public.