|April 27, 2020|
The Supreme Court issued its decision today in the Second Amendment case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York, New York. The case involved a Second Amendment challenge to restrictions that the City of New York placed on premises pistol permits that prevented permit holders from transporting handguns (unloaded and in a locked case) to another residence or to a shooting range outside of the City. The US Court of Appeals concluded that those restrictions did not violate the Second Amendment. After the Supreme Court granted certiorari, both the City and New York State revised their regulations to allow premises pistol permit holders to transport their pistols to second residences and to shooting ranges outside of the City. These revisions resulted in the City’s request that the Supreme Court dismiss the case as moot. Plaintiffs argued that the case was not moot because the revised law does not allow them to stop for coffee, gas, food, restroom breaks, etc. while transporting their pistols to a second home or a shooting range outside of the City and that they should still have the opportunity to request damages sustained by the original restrictions.
In today’s brief per curium decision (a decision not authored by a specific justice), the Supreme Court vacated the decision by the Second Circuit and remanded the case to the lower courts to decide whether the new rules allow temporary stops while transporting pistols, and whether plaintiffs can add a claim for damages resulting from the City’s original restrictions. As a practical matter, plaintiffs are guaranteed to lose these claims because the Second Circuit ruled that the restriction prohibiting the transport of pistols to a second residence or shooting range outside of the City did not violate the Second Amendment. As a result, any claim for damages would be denied because the lower courts concluded that plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights were not violated. Similarly, if the lower courts conclude that the revised rules do not allow for temporary stops, they would not find that this restriction violates the Second Amendment because they previously held that the original, broader restrictions prohibiting transport of the pistols were not a violation.
In addition to the brief per curium decision, Justice Kavanaugh issued a concurring opinion stating that the Supreme Court should soon address the scope of the Second Amendment again, perhaps in one of the cases in which requests for certiorari are currently pending, because of the concern that some courts are not properly applying the Heller and McDonald decisions to Second Amendment cases. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, issued a lengthy dissent in which they argued that the case is not moot and that the City’s restrictions on transporting pistols owned by premises permit holders violated their Second Amendment rights. The dissent noted that the City did not change its rules until after the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case, and that there was still relief that could be given to the plaintiffs, including damages, attorney fees and a declaration regarding whether the revised travel restrictions violate the Second Amendment. The dissent also noted that the City claimed that the transport restrictions were justified in the interest of public safety, but later admitted that the City was not less safe after the revised transport rules were implemented.
The Supreme Court had intended to issue another substantive Second Amendment decision to address the lower courts continuing refusal to apply the Heller and McDonald decisions holding that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right and that heightened scrutiny applies to laws that infringe that right. The City of New York avoided review this time by amending the regulations at issue, but it appears hopeful that the Supreme Court will soon grant certiorari in another case involving the Second Amendment and more fully address the proper scope of the right to keep and bear arms.
If you have any questions concerning the Second Amendment or New York pistol licenses, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.