Supreme Court agrees to hear gun rights case after nearly a decade of inaction on Second Amendment

The Supreme Court won't re-enter the national debate over gun rights.
The Supreme Court won't re-enter the national debate over gun rights.

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to jump back into the national debate over gun rights after nearly a decade on the sidelines.

The justices agreed to consider a petition backed by gun owners' groups asking them to strike down New York City's strict rules for carrying legally owned guns outside the home.

The rules do not allow gun owners to transport firearms outside city limits, even to practice ranges or second homes. Lower courts have upheld the city's regulations.

By agreeing to hear the case, the court ended a string of refusals in Second Amendment cases dating back to its landmark rulings in 2008 and 2010, which upheld the fundamental right to keep guns at home for self-defense.

Since then, the justices have refused to hear challenges from gun rights or gun control groups. That has left issues such as assault weapons bans, trigger locks and the right to carry guns in public up to individual states.

“There’s a bunch of unsettled questions that need to be answered in the Second Amendment area,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA School of Law professor who's written extensively on the battle over gun rights.

With the addition of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October, “you have four justices who are very strongly committed to robust Second Amendment protections,” Winkler said. "The case has great potential to limit the ability of state and local governments to pass gun control legislation.”

Last February, the court refused to hear a challenge to California's 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, the second longest in the nation. At the time, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, accusing lower courts of failing to give the Second Amendment "the respect due an enumerated constitutional right."

In one of their few actions on guns in the past decade, the justices in 2016 unanimously reversed a Massachusetts court that had upheld banning stun guns. But rather than hearing the case themselves, they sent it back to the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

New York City gun owners and gun rights groups contend the city's limits go far beyond what the Supreme Court intended in 2008 and 2010 when it upheld gun rights for self-defense at home.

"While this court has declared that the right to bear arms is not 'a second-class right,' many local governments and lower courts continue to treat it as such," their lawyer, former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement, argued in court papers. "Indeed, though the city’s bizarre transport ban is one of a kind, it is exemplary of a broader push by local governments to restrict Second Amendment rights through means that would never fly in any other constitutional context."

City officials argued that more liberal transporting policies in effect until 2001 were abused. While the policies were intended to allow gun owners to take unloaded guns only to target ranges outside the city, some guns were found loaded, or far from ranges, or on airplanes.

"Unlike golf clubs and musical instruments, firearms present public safety risks that the city has a legitimate interest in protecting against," their brief to the court said. "Limiting their possession and use in public minimizes the risk of gun violence."

More: President Trump bets big on Supreme Court to uphold controversial policies after lower court losses

More: Supreme Court agrees to wade into politically explosive issue of election maps drawn for partisan advantage

More: Supreme Court to hear case on Trump administration plan to add citizenship question to 2020 Census

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court agrees to hear gun rights case after nearly a decade of inaction on Second Amendment