WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court sidestepped a major decision on gun rights Monday in a dispute over New York City’s former ban on transporting guns.
The justices threw out a challenge from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association's New York affiliate. The court ruled that the city’s move to ease restrictions on taking licensed, locked and unloaded guns outside the city limits, coupled with a change in state law to prevent New York from reviving the ban, left the court with nothing to decide. The court asked a lower court to consider whether the city’s new rules still pose problems for gun owners.
The anticlimactic end to the Supreme Court case is a disappointment to gun rights advocates and relief to gun control groups who thought a conservative Supreme Court majority fortified by two appointees of President Donald Trump, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, might use the case to expand on landmark decisions from a decade ago that established a right under the Second Amendment to keep a gun at home for self-defense.
But other guns cases remain in the high court’s pipeline, including whether gun owners have a constitutional right to carry their weapons in public. Later Monday, the justices scheduled 10 cases involving gun restrictions in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, for possible discussion during their private telephone conference on Friday. The court could decide to hear one or more of those next term.
Although the opinion was unsigned, the court split 6-3 over the outcome.
Gorsuch joined Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissenting from the dismissal. Kavanaugh wrote a brief concurring opinion in which he agreed with the result, but also said the court should take up another guns case soon.
“This case is not moot. The City violated petitioners’ Second Amendment right, and we should so hold," Alito wrote for the dissenters.
Lower courts upheld the regulation, but the Supreme Court’s decision early in 2019 to step into the case signaled a revived interest in gun rights from a court with two new justices.