By George L. Lyon, Jr, Esq.
As you may have heard the Supreme Court last week dismissed as moot the New York State Rifle and Pistol case that many had hoped would clarify for the lower courts the standard court should use to review second amendment cases. While not unexpected, the 6-3 decision was still a disappointment. Justice Alito wrote a dissenting opening which Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined arguing that the case was not moot and that the city ordinance at issue was unconstitutional. In the penultimate paragraph of his opinion, Justice Alito made the following comment:
“We are told that the mode of review [by the lower courts] in this case is representative of the way Heller has been treated in the lower courts. If that is true, there is cause for concern.”
By George L. Lyon, Jr, Esq.
Arsenal Attorneys is closely monitoring developments at the United States Supreme Court, which recently agreed to review a case some are already celebrating as a seminal 2nd Amendment decision in the making. However, this case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York, NY, might not have as broad and immediate an impact as many have predicted.
This case is highly anticipated because it would be the next logical step in a long, gradual process to recognize the liberties guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment, and thereby lead to the reversal of presumably unconstitutional gun control laws in states like California, New York, Maryland, etc.
Second Amendment jurisprudence has been the late bloomer of US constitutional law. Since its creation in 1789, the Supreme Court did not issue significant 2nd Amendment opinions until the last dozen years. In the McDonald v. Chicago decision in 2010, the Supreme Court explicitly stated that the Second Amendment’s right to keep and hear arms was a fundamental right applicable to the states via the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The Court thus applied nationwide its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment includes the right to possess a functional firearm, including a handgun, in the home. Since that time, other than a summary reversal of a Massachusetts case upholding a ban on possession of stun guns as inconsistent with the Heller decision, the Supreme Court has not heard a gun rights case.
During this time, lower federal courts have upheld a variety of gun related legislation, including restrictions on the issuance of permits to carry handguns outside the home, magazine limits, and limits on so-called assault weapons. Until last week, the Supreme Court has declined to review these lower court decisions giving short shrift to the Second Amendment. Justice Thomas, dissenting from the Court’s refusal to hear one case, suggested the Court was treating the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms as a disfavored right.
It may very well take another case to make it clear to the lower courts
that Second Amendment rights are not second-class rights.
Last week, however, the Court accepted for full argument the aforementioned case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York, NY. It involves a challenge to a New York City ordinance which restricts the right of city residents having pistol premises permits to take their guns out of their city homes. The New York ordinance only allows premises pistol licensees to take their guns to one of seven New York City gun ranges. Residents cannot take their handguns to a second home or a gun range outside the city. No other jurisdiction in the country has such a restrictive law.
The mainstream media, noting the presence of Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing the more moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, has been quick to suggest that the Court may now be ready to dismantle various gun control provisions, such as ‘may issue’ concealed carry laws and assault weapons bans.
Nothing would make us happier at Arsenal Attorneys than a far-reaching, strongly worded decision striking down the nonsensical New York City law and setting a rigorous test for evaluating restrictions nationwide on firearms and other self-defense tools. We predict, however, a more modest result. While we believe the New York City law is doomed, the Court may very well decide the case on narrow grounds. Supreme Court doctrine holds that courts should avoid deciding a Constitutional issue if the Court can decide a case on statutory grounds. Such a statutory ground exists for the Court to decide this case. A portion of the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 926A, states as follows:
Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.
The New York City ordinance would appear in direct conflict with Section 926A. As such, the Supreme Court could very well throw out the provision on this statutory basis and avoid deciding the case on Second Amendment grounds. Such a result might very well obtain the support of the Court’s more liberal Justices, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, with a resulting 9-0 decision invalidating the law. Likely, one or more of the Court’s more conservative Justices, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh might pen a concurrence decrying the lack of respect shown the Second Amendment by the bulk of the lower Federal courts. Otherwise, Chief Justice Roberts may be the deciding vote whether to take a narrow or expansive path in invalidating the New York City law.
It may very well take another case to make it clear to the lower courts that Second Amendment rights are not second-class rights. A gun carry case could serve this purpose well, such as Rogers v. Grewal from New Jersey and now at the Supreme Court awaiting a decision whether it will be heard by the Supreme Court. The attorney generals of 23 states just asked the Court to review this case. For now, the Supreme Court’s taking New York Rifle and Pistol Association is clearly a good start, but it is likely just another gradual step in ensuring that the lower courts respect the Second Amendment.
Arsenal Attorneys’ George Lyon is licensed to practice law in Virginia and the District of Columbia. He was one of the plaintiffs in the Palmer v. District of Columbia case that forced DC to begin issuing concealed carry licenses and in the Heller case that legalized handguns in Washington, DC. Mr. Lyon is licensed by the Metropolitan Police Department to teach the DC concealed carry course and conducts the course monthly. His next class is scheduled for February 23-24 in Arlington, Virginia. To sign up for his course, contact Mr. Lyon at gll[at]arsenalattorneys.com or at 703-291-3312. Arsenal Attorneys is looking for persons who have obtained their DC concealed carry licenses and who would be willing to participate in a civil rights case relating to DC’s myriad of concealed carry restrictions. Contact Mr. Lyon if you have an interest in learning more.
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