On April 27, the Supreme Court punted on the biggest gun case to cross its threshold in years. Dashing the hopes of gun rights supporters, the high court announced that New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York is moot. City officials changed the suppressive gun-transport law after a court challenge, and their gambit worked. The case may come back to the Supreme Court after additional action in lower courts, but not this term.
In an unsigned opinion, the court said that city officials changing the law was sufficient to make the case moot. New York City had a rule that forbade the transportation of firearms except to a few city-authorized ranges. So restrictive was the law that it seemed hard to fathom how it could pass constitutional muster. The gun controllers were in a panic – if the law was reviewed by the Supreme Court, justices might articulate a broader standard of Second Amendment protection. So they rushed to change it before the court could rule. The Supreme Court observed:
“After we granted certiorari, the State of New York amended its firearm licensing statute, and the City amended the rule so that petitioners may now transport firearms to a second home or shooting range outside of the city, which is the precise relief that petitioners requested in the prayer for relief in their complaint. App. 48. Petitioners’ claim for declaratory and injunctive.”
The Supreme Court left open the possibility that those challenging the law could still do so, but that they would first have to address those claims in the lower courts.
Justice Samuel Alito penned a blistering dissent, attacking both the mootness decision and the constitutionality of the ordinance itself. He said, “A challenge to an allegedly unconstitutional law does not become moot with the enactment of new legislation that reduces but does not eliminate the injury originally alleged.” Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas joined Alito for most of his opinion.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in concurrence; he believes both that the procedural aspect of mootness was handled correctly and that the court needs to shore up its Second Amendment jurisprudence. He wrote:
“And I share JUSTICE ALITO’s concern that some federal and state courts may not be properly applying Heller and McDonald. The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari now pending before the Court.
Sooner or later, the Supreme Court will have to address the fact that so many lower court rulings violate the plain meaning of the landmark cases that defined gun rights as individual rights, Heller and McDonald. If gun rights are fundamental rights, as the Court has said, they must be treated as such. It looks like it will be later.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.
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