Elizabeth Kaiser graphic
On April 26, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd District surrounding gun rights. It would be the first case to be heard in more than a decade directly linked to this civil liberty.
The case involved, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al., Petitioners v. Keith M. Corlett, in His Official Capacity as Superintendent of New York State Police, et al., questions “Whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense.”
New York enacted the prohibition of someone’s possession of a firearm without a license. The lawful process to possess a firearm inside or outside the home is by obtaining a license issued by licensing officers, typically judges or law enforcement officers. If the licensing officer deems the applicant not of good moral character and having a history of convicted crimes or mental illness, then the cause to deny the license exists.
The state of New York allows the concealed carry of a handgun; however, the state’s procedure to obtain a concealed carry license is somewhat difficult or “virtually impossible” to the ordinary law-abiding citizen. Licensing officers may only grant a license to carry a handgun “without regard to employment or place of possession” and if it is “when proper cause exists.” Since the law does not define proper cause, the New York courts have deemed licensing officials as the “proper” standard. These lower courts have ruled an applicant wanting to carry a handgun in self-defense needs to demonstrate a special circumstance for self-protection and distinguish themselves from the general community or people of the same profession. In this instance, a simple desire to carry a concealed weapon to protect oneself and one’s property is not proper cause. If someone lives or works in a high crime area, it does not suffice. Additionally, a desire to concealed carry and have good moral character is not sufficient.
Robert Nash, one of the petitioners, requested a concealed carry license for self-defense due to the rising rate of robberies in his neighborhood. Nash stated he completed an advanced firearm safety training course. Richard McNally, one of the respondents and a New York Supreme Court Justice, denied Nash’s application based on the failure to show proper cause because he did not relay a special need for self-defense that set him apart from the general public.
Brendan Koch, another petitioner, had a similar reason to apply for a concealed carry license. He wanted his for self-defense as well. Koch stated his experience with safety training and operation of firearms were extensive and completed in order to support his request.
In the district court’s summary, “Nash and Koch do not satisfy the ‘proper cause’ requirement because they do not ‘face any special or unique danger to (their) life.”
The petition for a writ of certiorari was filed on December 17, 2020. The counsel of the petitioners provided the following reasoning for their clients’ desire to be granted the petition:
Firstly, the Supreme “Court should resolve the open and acknowledged circuit (court) split on whether the Second Amendment protects a right to carry a handgun outside the home.” The support for this claim was provided in the form of decisions made from District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. From those cases’ decisions, the Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment preserves individuals the right to bear arms for personal protection inside and outside their homes. Furthermore, the Second Amendment does not allow security to a state official from restricting an individual’s right of self-defense to an allotted few, or to restrict those rights to the inside of a home from externalities.
Secondly, the counsel of the petitioners suggested that New York’s “Proper Cause” regime plainly violates the Second Amendment because the text, structure and purpose of the Second Amendment confirm that the right to bear arms extends beyond the home, the history of the Second Amendment confirms that the right to bear arms extends beyond the home and Heller’s reasoning strongly supports the conclusion that the Second Amendment protects a right to carry outside the home. This also pleads the Supreme Court’s crucial review since most of the lower courts considering the question presented, including the lower courts in this case, were misled. Within the Second Amendment’s text, the Court held that it protects the right to keep arms and the right to bear arms. The right to keep and bear arms was deemed separate rather than one meaning. Heller states to “keep arms” is to “have weapons.” To “bear arms” is to “carry” weapons for the sole purpose of armed readiness in offensive or defensive action if conflict were to arise with another person. Therefore, the argument being made is New York’s proper cause, which restricts the liberties of the Second Amendment, roundly unconstitutional. This law flatly denied law-abiding citizens Nash and Koch the rights the Second Amendment protects. When one goes through the license process in New York, it requires an applicant to state the unique circumstance from the general group of people guaranteed rights under the Second Amendment. New York’s Proper Cause regime is not only infringing upon gun rights, it is strictly opposed to the liberty itself.
Thirdly, the question presented is worth very important consideration. The case has raised the importance of the fundamental liberty of the Second Amendment and whether the right is strictly limited to the home. Most states allow the Second Amendment’s promise “shall not be infringed.” The other states, being the nation’s most populous cities and states, resist the precedented decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Heller and McDonald which resulted to “tens of millions of citizens . . . being deprived of individual, fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.” The exercise of this right is explicitly laid out in the Constitution to all the people and cannot be barred based on where one lives or “how ‘proper’ or ‘special’ the state considers the individual’s ‘cause’ for wanting to exercise that right.” The lower courts choose not to genuinely encounter the textual and historical analyses of Heller’s conclusion to regarding the Second Amendment outside the home. The consistent erroring of Heller’s ruling “heightens the need for this Court’s review.” Additionally, and solidly, members of the Court expressed previous thoughts of concerns in relation to federal and state courts improperly applying Heller and McDonald.
Now, the Supreme Court could restore the demand of the Second Amendment’s interpretation for this case and for future cases by overturning the lower courts’ rulings. Or, the nine justices could uphold the lower courts’ rulings. The current justices of the Supreme Court have a conservative majority with the liberal ideology being the minority. Liberal and conservative justices could switch their stances on gun rights and state powers regarding their legal philosophies, but it is highly unlikely the conservative-leaning justices Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett will break away from their political beliefs. This case is set to be argued in the Court’s next term early in the fall of this year.