While the Supreme Court has been working behind closed doors on its first major Second Amendment opinion in more than a decade, three mass shootings have broken the country, including Tuesday’s massacre of 19 schoolchildren in Texas.
Closed off from public view, the justices are penning opinions and dissents in a dispute that targets one concealed carry law in New York that is more than a century old. A narrow ruling could impact only a handful of states with similar laws, but a more expansive ruling could open a new chapter in constitutional challenges to gun safety laws across the country.
“As a formal matter, the Supreme Court’s ruling on New York’s gun law doesn’t call into question gun laws restricting types of weapons or sensitive places where individuals can carry guns,” said Jacob Charles, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke University School of Law.
“But a broader ruling that changes the way courts evaluate gun laws could call into question a wider array of gun regulations like assault weapons bans and other restrictions like high-capacity magazine bans,” Charles added.
The deliberations come as the country mourns another tragedy, victims of gun violence plea for more action, and the political branches seem forever divided on a path forward.
In 2008, the Supreme Court held for the first time, that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms at home for self-defense.
After the ruling, however, to the frustration of gun rights advocates, lower courts relied upon language in the opinion to uphold many gun regulations.
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” then-Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in the Heller case.
Except for a follow-up decision two years later, the justices largely stayed away from the issue, infuriating gun rights advocates and even some of the justices themselves.
Justice Clarence Thomas declared at one point that the “Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”
After Amy Coney Barrett took her seat, the court agreed to take up a new case, highlighting the impact of former President Donald Trump’s three nominees on the court.
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