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Thomas Gallatin / April 29, 2020

SCOTUS Balks at Chance to Reinforce 2A Protections

Justices dismiss Second Amendment case against New York after sly modification.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case New York State Pistol & Rifle Association v. New York, which had challenged an onerous New York City regulation that restricted residents who legally owned firearms from carrying their guns outside their homes except for traveling to and from shooting ranges within city limits. As Reason’s Jacob Sullum reported, “New York’s rules, adopted in 2001, originally allowed residents to remove legally owned guns from their homes only while en route to or from one of seven gun ranges within the city. That meant they could not legally take their guns, even unloaded and stored in locked containers separated from the ammunition, outside the five boroughs to practice at ranges, participate in competitions, or defend themselves in second homes.”

SCOTUS dismissed the case on the grounds that it was moot due to the fact that New York slyly rewrote the regulation following the Court’s original decision to take up the case. It was a shrewd play by New York, which recognized the obvious unconstitutional nature of the law (or at least expected legal defeat) and dropped it with the aim of avoiding a precedent-setting smackdown.

Three justices — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch — issued a blistering dissent written by Alito, who argued that “by incorrectly dismissing this case as moot, the Court permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced.” Alito noted, “Although [New York City] had previously insisted that its ordinance served important public safety purposes, our grant of review apparently led to an epiphany of sorts, and the City quickly changed its ordinance. We have been particularly wary of attempts by parties to manufacture mootness in order to evade review.”

Furthermore, Alito argued that New York’s abandonment of the law still did not provide the plaintiffs with all the considerations they aimed for. That includes “unrestricted access” to shooting ranges outside the city, as the ordinance still only allows gun-owning residents to travel with firearms outside their homes to and from ranges or competitions directly in a “continuous and uninterrupted” manner. “The bottom line,” concluded Alito, “is that petitioners, who sought ‘unrestricted access’ to out-of-city ranges and competitions, are still subject to restrictions of undetermined meaning.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with the majority decision. While he expressed his agreement with the dissenting justices’ concerns, he argued that pending Second Amendment cases before the Court would likely address these same concerns.

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