By: Frank Miniter
At the SHOT Show in Las Vegas this past week – an annual trade show put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) – the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to finally hear another Second Amendment case is the second thing everyone is talking about – the first being the coolest and smartest new gun designs being unveiled. Everyone except Larry Keane that is. He’s the senior vice president and general counsel for the NSSF, and for him, the court’s decision is first and foremost on his mind. “With the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, this case could be decisive,” says Keane.
The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. New York City, at a minimum will decide whether or not a New York City law that limits residents’ ability to transport their guns outside of their homes is constitutional. Currently, residents in that city can carry a licensed (if they can get one), locked and unloaded handgun to one of seven shooting ranges within city limits, but nowhere else, including homes or shooting ranges outside of the city.
Keane is worked up because lower courts have been disagreeing with each other over basic gun rights questions for years. Some courts have even ruled that a local government can ban the most popular firearm design sold today – semiautomatic firearms – just because some are cosmetically different than others. “It is long past time for the Supreme Court to give some guidance,” says Keane as we stand on the trade show floor amidst miles of aisles of guns and related products. “The Second Amendment of our Bill of Rights shouldn’t be treated as if it is irrelevant, as New York City has done. Too many lower courts have simply disregarded Heller.” What other constitutional right has to meet such a standard? Can the government take away the freedom of religion from people who can’t prove they really need their faith? How about someone’s freedom of speech or their right to due process under the law?
Keane is referring to District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), a Supreme Court decision that determined the Second Amendment is indeed an individual right. Soon after Heller, the Supreme Court decided McDonald v. Chicago (2010), a case that applied this constitutional right to state and local governments, meaning they are also restricted by this protection of our liberty. But then the Supreme Court began shirking important constitutional questions related to guns. The Supreme Court even passed on a case (Peruta v. San Diego County (2016)) that would have determined whether or not a local government can decide that people can only utilize their Second Amendment rights if they can prove that they really, really need to be able to carry a gun. What other constitutional right has to meet such a standard? Can the government take away the freedom of religion from people who can’t prove they really need their faith? How about someone’s freedom of speech or their right to due process under the law?
“It is very appropriate that this case is a lawsuit with New York City,” says Keane. “Right now, a resident of the Bronx isn’t even allowed to transport an unloaded handgun locked in a case a few miles north to shoot at a range in Westchester County. What sense does that make? Can a New York City official please explain how this might stop a criminal intent on doing harm?” Not to mention, the handgun permit system in New York City has been rife with favoritism – those with the right “connections” have been able to get carry permits, while the vast majority of residents cannot.
The Second Amendment protects a right to “bear arms,” as in to carry them. Our Second Amendment rights don’t end at our front doors. The Heller and McDonald decisions upheld this basic right. Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to insist that law-abiding citizens get to utilize it.