New York Gun Rights Case Tossed as Moot From Top Court

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., right, speaks at a 2019 protest outside the Supreme Court during arguments in the first gun rights case before the Supreme Court in nine years. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Now that New Yorkers can transport their firearms between homes and to shooting ranges outside the city, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the first gun-rights case it’s heard in nearly a decade.

Led by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, several gun owners had claimed that their rights were being violated by a New York state law and accompanying city regulation that said they could only have handguns in their homes or while on their way to one of seven gun ranges in the city.

As the case made its way through the courts, however, the city changed its law last year so that gun owners could take their guns to a second home or a shooting range outside the city, among other places. Around the same time, New York state changed its gun laws to allow similar activity.

Represented by Kirkland & Ellis attorney Paul Clement, the handgun owners argued that there was still a live controversy because the amended law would still forbid them from stopping between the allowed locations for coffee, gas, food or restroom breaks. The city for its part denied that such activities would be prohibited.

When the Supreme Court opted in October to keep the case alive, some feared that the court’s conservative majority sought an opportunity to loosen gun restrictions nationwide. Two months later, the justices heard oral arguments where New York City Law Department attorney Richard Dearing said the city would not enforce any provisions of the old premises license restrictions.

The Supreme Court dismissed the case as moot Monday. Though the 2-page opinion is unsigned, a lengthy dissent by Justice Samuel Alito shows the decision was divisive. Joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, Alito said: “the case is not moot.”

“The city violated petitioners’ Second Amendment right, and we should so hold,” he wrote. “I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the District Court to provide appropriate relief.”

New York City corporation counsel James Johnson applauded the outcome. 

“The court properly recognized that the only claims the petitioners ever brought no longer present a live case, because the challenged city rule no longer exists,” Johnson said. “The question is, in a word, moot. The court’s resolution was supported by plain common sense, the facts, and the law. We are pleased with the court’s decision.”

Neither Clement nor a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice responded to a request for comment Monday.

Because the gun owners raised a new claim for damages, that issue must be resolved by the lower courts.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that he concurred with the decision to dismiss the case as moot but also “share(s) Justice Alito’s concern that some federal and state courts may” be misapplying two precedential cases on gun-control laws, the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller and the 2010 case McDonald v. Chicago.

“The court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari now pending before the court,” Kavanaugh wrote.

In the dissent, Alito complained that the public-safety interests New York had cited were “weak on their face,” “not substantiated in any way,” and accepted “with no serious probing.”

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