The Supreme Court on Friday will consider whether to wade into a growing legal brawl over the scope of the Second Amendment and how far the Constitution goes in protecting Americans’ self-defense rights outside of their homes, with the justices deciding whether to take up three pending gun cases.
Six years ago, in the landmark Heller case, the court established that the Constitution guarantees a personal right to bear arms, but states — and lower federal courts — have made different judgments about what that means.
Now, in the key case, the National Rifle Association has asked the justices to take up a Texas challenge that questions whether states can impose restrictions on guns that the NRA says would be “unimaginable” if it were for free speech or privacy rights.
One of the other two cases involves a separate NRA lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, challenging whether federal law can require handgun buyers to be at least 21 rather than 18. The third case questions a 1968 federal law that prevents anyone without a federal firearms license from receiving or processing handguns bought or brought in from out of state.
“These cases present vital questions for gun policy: where you can carry a gun and who can have one,” said Adam Winkler, a specialist in constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law. “It’s only a matter of time before the Supreme Court has to answer these questions.”
Still, the Supreme Court has denied petitions to hear cases stemming from two federal appeals courts and could refuse to hear the latest challenges as well.
In the Texas case, state law prevents those younger than 21 from buying handguns and prohibits them from obtaining permits to carry concealed guns in public.
Several plaintiffs, who were ages 18 to 21 at the time, sued. They argued that the bans violate the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas law, but other courts have ruled differently on questions about the public’s right to carry concealed firearms.
Most recently, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a law in San Diego County that requires applicants for concealed-carry permits to demonstrate “good cause” as to why they need guns for personal safety.
The 7th Circuit ruled against a concealed-carry law enacted in Illinois, and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th circuit courts upheld regulations approved in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, respectively.
“It widens the conflict within the circuits on the issue,” he said, describing the ruling as “carefully obedient to the Supreme Court’s [ruling] in the Heller case, unlike the 5th Circuit and, quite frankly, other courts.”
The Obama administration has argued that age restrictions are not undue burdens on the exercise of the Second Amendment and said Congress has used evidence linking younger people to handgun-related crime to effectively tailor laws.
Nelson Lund, a constitutional law professor at the George Mason University School of Law, said the justices, who will meet in their regular private conference Friday to decide what cases to hear, could decline to take up any of the three.