The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a rebuff to gun-rights advocates including the National Rifle Association, leaving intact New York’s requirement that people wishing to carry a handgun in public show a special need for protection.
Refusing for now to be drawn into the fractious nationwide debate over firearms, the justices today let stand a federal appeals court decision that said the century-old New York law didn’t infringe the Constitution’s Second Amendment. The court made no comment, turning away an appeal by five New York residents and a gun-rights group as part of a list of orders released in Washington.
High court review of the New York case would have threatened public-possession restrictions in as many as 10 states. Lower courts are divided on the measures, making it likely the Supreme Court will consider the issue at a later point.
“It is only a matter of time before the justices hear a case about public possession of guns,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law and the author of a book on the history of the gun-rights battle.
In upholding New York’s law, which requires applicants to show “proper cause” to get a permit to carry a weapon, a federal appeals court pointed to what it called “a longstanding tradition of states regulating firearm possession and use in public because of the dangers posed to public safety.”
The measure was challenged by five residents of New York’s Westchester County and the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun-rights group based in Bellevue, Washington. The National Rifle Association and 20 states backed the appeal.
The state “treats the carrying of handguns for self-defense not as a right but as an administrative privilege lying beyond the reach of most people,” the residents, led by Alan Kachalsky, argued in court papers.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman countered that the state’s law “is similar to the types of longstanding laws that courts have repeatedly upheld.”
The high court rebuff “is a victory for families across New York who are rightly concerned about the scourge of gun violence that all too often plagues our communities,” Schneiderman said in a statement after the court acted.
In 1981, just three states -- Maine, Washington and Vermont -- let typical residents carry firearms in public without giving a reason. Today, about 40 states do.
Federal appeals courts are divided on the remaining laws that restrict public possession. A different court struck down an Illinois law that barred most people from carrying a loaded weapon in public, saying it violated the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
A third federal appeals court last month upheld a Maryland law that requires “good and substantial reason” for having a handgun in public. A fourth case, involving a New Jersey law, is now before yet another appeals court.
Those cases may eventually be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The legal disagreement stems from ambiguities in the 2008 Supreme Court decision that, for the first time, said the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms. That ruling focused on gun rights in the home, striking down a District of Columbia handgun ban. A follow-up case in 2010 also involved in-home possession.
In the New York case, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that, while the Second Amendment applies in public, the government has greater power to impose restrictions there.
Outside the home, “public safety interests often outweigh individual interests in self-defense,” the three-judge panel said.
The December shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which killed 20 children and six adults, unleashed a flurry of legislative activity around the country, often dividing lawmakers along partisan lines.
New restrictions on guns have passed in New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland, all of which are led by Democrats. More states have moved in the opposite direction: Six relaxed restrictions, including those on carrying guns into churches, schools or workplace parking lots.
The Senate is considering legislation that would expand the number of people subject to background checks when they buy a firearm.
The case is Kachalsky v. Cacace, 12-845.