Second Amendment Rights


In the United States, there are nine times more deaths via gun violence than in Canada. There is no federal license for gun owners, and no national gun registry in the US. The issue of gun control is contentious in America, due to a succession of mass shootings in recent decades and calls from many Americans for stricter regulation of firearms and ammunition. But, citing the Second Amendment, the NRA and gunrights activists consistently r esist any major gun-control measures. All this, to set the stage for the US Supreme Court’s first gun rights case in almost a decade.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to have a handgun at home for self-defense. Ever since the 2008 Heller decision, litigants have battled over the appropriate level of scrutiny to apply to regulations affecting Second Amendment rights. Lower courts have overwhelmingly upheld state and local gun control laws, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to say anything more about to what extent the right applies outside one’s home. The Supreme Court declined to hear cases upholding the NY assault weapons ban and an appeal of California’s ten-day waiting period for gun purchases. In 2017, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent from denial of certiorari, stating that the “Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this [Supreme] Court.”

On January 22nd, the Supreme Court granted petition to the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York. At issue is whether NYC’s ban on the transport of handguns outside of municipal shooting ranges is consistent with the Second Amendment. Given Kavanaugh’s confirmation and clearly-drawn conservative jurisprudential lines, the Court seems keen to expand the scope of Second Amendment rights. The justices’ eventual ruling in the case could stick to the relatively narrow question of whether the city’s law is constitutional, or could shed light on a broader and more consequential question of whether the right to have a gun extends outside the home to the public. Although a ruling striking down NYC’s restrictions would not necessarily have broad impact, the court’s majority could use the case to set a new precedent creating a right to public-carry that would undermine gun-control legislation across the country. Scholars have deemed it unusual that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear such a minor Second Amendment case, since it concerns city ordinance not state law. Lawyers for the city argue that the law is justified by public safety considerations, while the NRA will argue that it undercuts the explicit right to keep and bear arms.

This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.