The Wednesday case that the justices will hear comes at a time when gun violence is on the rise and could significantly increase the number of people who are eligible to carry firearms in their everyday lives. The case concerns New York's strict gun permit law. It is unclear whether the challengers have a right of self-defense to carry a firearm in public.
Gun control groups claim that if the high court orders states to remove restrictions, there will be more violence. Gun rights groups argue that the danger of confrontation is exactly why they are entitled to self-defense.
Gun rights advocates believe that a court with a conservative 6-3 majority will be inclined to support them. They ask the court to declare that the New York law is too restrictive. Similar laws are in other states. Gun control advocates admit that the composition of the court has made them anxious about its outcome.
Jonathan Lowy, Brady's chief counsel, stated that "the stakes couldn't be higher."
In 2008 and 2010, major gun rights decisions were made by the court. These decisions established a national right to have a firearm at home for self defense. Now, the court will decide if there is a Second Amendment similar right to carry a firearm out in public.
This is not a problem in the majority of the country where gun owners can legally carry their guns when they go outside. A half dozen states, including California, which is the most populous, have restrictions on gun ownership. These laws "may issue" laws could be upheld by the justices.
After years of routinely turning away gun rights cases, the fact that the high courts is now hearing one is a significant change. The justices ended one gun case they agreed to hear in 2020, when they tossed the case.
The court decided to revisit the gun debate after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal judge, and her replacement by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Eric Tirschwell, Everytown for Gun Safety's legal director, stated that there is "reason to be worried" for groups such as his. He said that they are now reviewing a type of law that the court has not been interested in.
The New York law that the court is looking at has been in effect since 1913. It states that in order to conceal a handgun in public to defend oneself, an applicant for a license must show "proper cause," a real need to carry the weapon. Local officials can issue gun licenses that are either unrestricted, which allows the person to carry the gun wherever it is not prohibited by law, or restricted, which allows the person to carry the gun under certain conditions. This could be used to allow you to carry a gun when hunting, target shooting, or traveling in the backcountry.
The group's lawyers claim that the Second Amendment text, history, and tradition support their argument that a person has the right to keep a gun in the house. According to the group, New York's gun laws are discriminatory in origin. It was originally designed to allow officials broad latitude to prevent guns from being taken by newly arrived immigrants from Europe, especially Italians.
New York counters that claim and states that the Second Amendment permits states to limit the carrying of guns in public. It also cites history, tradition, and the Second Amendment's text. According to the state, its restrictions promote public safety. This is based on research showing that gun-related homicides are lower in places that allow public firearms carry. New York's law doesn't prohibit guns, but rather imposes moderate restrictions.
Tom King, the president of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association stated in an interview that part the problem with New York law is that a person's chances of getting an unrestricted permit will depend on whether he/she is located in a rural area or more urban region.
Both gun control advocates and gun rights advocates agree that it is unclear how broad the court will rule. They will also be closely watching arguments, especially from the three newest members of the court, for clues.
Although the three former Trump appointees -- Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Barrett -- are conservatives, they were not present on the court at the time of major gun rights rulings. Gun rights advocates have reason to be optimistic, however, given their actions thus far.
Kavanaugh, an appeals court judge in 2011, argued in a dissident that the District of Columbia ban on semi-automatic weapons and gun registration requirements were unconstitutional. He urged the court last year to consider another case regarding guns, as he was concerned about lower courts not following Supreme Court precedent.
Gorsuch would, for his part have ruled in favor of the 2020 gun case that his colleagues decided against him. Barrett, a judge on appeals, wrote in disapproval that a conviction of a nonviolent felony shouldn't automatically make someone unqualified from owning guns. She said her colleagues were treating Second Amendment rights as a "second-class" right.
Gun control groups hope that conservatives will still vote to keep New York's law. In a briefing to the court, a group of prominent conservatives including J. Michael Luttig (ex-federal appeals court judge) urged the court to do this. In a 7-4 decision earlier this year, the judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge of Hawaii's permit regulations. Jay Bybee, a conservative judge, wrote that a "review" of over 700 years of American and English legal history revealed a strong theme: the government has the power regulate arms in public spaces.
It is widely believed that New York will be supported by the court's three liberal justices.
Other states could be affected depending on the final decision of the justices. Biden's administration is asking the justices not to overturn New York's law. It claims that California, Hawaii and Massachusetts all have similar laws. Although they have slightly different laws, Connecticut and Delaware both have "may issue" legislation.