By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday discussed taking up a major new gun rights case involving a National Rifle Association-backed challenge to a New York state law that restricts the ability of residents to carry concealed handguns in public.
It was among the cases on the agenda at the private weekly conference of the justices. There is heightened concern about gun violence in the United States following a pair of mass shootings in a span of a week, one in Georgia and the other in Colorado, that killed a total of 18 people.
Two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA, an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, are asking the justices to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling throwing out their challenge to a policy that requires a state resident to show “proper cause” to obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.
Lower courts rejected the argument made by plaintiffs that the restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
The Supreme Court is not expected to announce whether it will take action on the appeal until Monday at the earliest.
If the justices do eventually take up the case and hear oral arguments, they would once again step into a swirling debate over gun rights in a nation that has a gun fatality rate consistently higher than other rich countries.
Democratic President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged the Senate to approve two bills passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on March 11 that would broaden background checks on gun buyers. Biden also called for a national ban on assault-style weapons, while the White House said he is considering executive actions to address gun violence that would not require the approval of Congress.
Numerous mass shootings in the United States have failed to spur the U.S. Congress to pass gun control legislation sought by Democrats, thanks in large part to opposition from congressional Republicans and the NRA.
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority is seen as holding an expansive view of Second Amendment rights.
The New York case, if accepted, could lead to the most consequential ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment in more than a decade. The court in a landmark 2008 ruling recognized for the first time an individual’s right to keep guns at home for self-defense, and in 2010 applied that right to the states.
The plaintiffs in the New York case are asking for that right to be extended beyond the home. A ruling against New York could force lower courts to cast a skeptical eye on new or existing gun control laws.
Under New York’s law on carrying concealed handguns, a resident may obtain licenses that are restricted to hunting and target practice, or if they hold certain jobs such as a bank messenger or correctional officer. But to carry a concealed handgun without restriction, an applicant must convince a firearms licensing officer of an actual – rather than merely speculative – need for self-defense.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)