WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear a challenge to a New York City gun ordinance that does not allow people licensed to have guns in their homes to transport the weapons outside the city.
The court has not heard a Second Amendment case since 2010. The new case will illuminate the court’s approach to gun rights after the arrival of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in October installed a reliable five-member conservative majority.
The city’s ordinance allows residents with so-called premises licenses to take their guns to one of seven shooting ranges within the city limits. But the ordinance forbids them to transport their guns anywhere else, including second homes and shooting ranges outside the city, even when they are unloaded and locked in a container separate from ammunition.
Three city residents and the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association sued to challenge the law but lost in a Federal District Court in Manhattan and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Second Circuit ruled that the ordinance passed constitutional muster under District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court decision that established an individual right to keep guns in the home for self-defense.
In urging the Supreme Court to hear their appeal in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, No. 18-280, the challengers said the restrictions imposed by the New York City ordinance were unique in the nation and made no sense.
“Only New York City flatly prohibits its residents from removing their lawfully purchased and duly registered handguns from the city limits, even to transport them (unloaded, and locked up) to second homes at which they are constitutionally entitled to possess them, or to out-of-city shooting ranges or competitions at which they are constitutionally entitled to hone their safe and effective use,” the challengers’ brief said.
“That prohibition does not even make sense on its own terms,” the brief said. “It has the perverse consequences of forcing New Yorkers to leave their handguns behind in their vacant residences whenever they leave the city for an extended period of time.”
Lawyers for the city responded that the law was justified by public safety considerations. Before 2001, their brief said, the city offered a license that allowed owners to take their guns to shooting ranges outside the city.
The Police Department, the brief said, “observed widespread abuses.” Firing ranges within the city must keep detailed records, the brief said, but people with the old licenses who were found with guns outside their homes could claim to be headed to a range outside the city that did not keep such records.
Since its decision in the Heller case, the court has said little about the scope of the Second Amendment. In the lower courts, few challenges to gun control laws since the Heller decision have succeeded.
Last year, dissenting from the court’s decision not to hear a Second Amendment case, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court was abdicating its duty to protect an important constitutional right.
“As evidenced by our continued inaction in this area,” he wrote, “the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”
“The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this court’s constitutional orphan,” Justice Thomas wrote. “And the lower courts seem to have gotten the message.”