MCPP Special: Supreme Court takes up major gun rights case

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The following article was written by Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy

Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case involving the right to carry firearms outside the home. The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Corlett, is the first Second Amendment case the high court has taken in more than a decade.

The case involves a legal challenge to a New York law which prohibits the concealed carry of handguns in public. The plaintiffs applied for a concealed-carry license from the state of New York but their applications were rejected.

New York state law requires applicants to show that they have a “special need” and “proper cause” to qualify to hold firearms under state law, and the state decided the plaintiffs did not meet that standard. New York usually grants concealed carry licenses only to security professionals or others who can demonstrate that they face grave threats due to their occupation or public identity.

The applicants who were denied a permit argue that the state’s limits on concealed carry violate the Second Amendment, since New York does not allow the open carry of firearms, and the law makes it virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm either.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the dispute could be a watershed moment for the Second Amendment. The Court hasn’t made a substantive ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment since 2008, when it held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep arms in their home (and not just those Americans who were members of a “militia”).

Two years later, the Court ruled in another case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, which didn’t break new ground on the Second Amendment but did clarify that the individual right articulated in Heller did not just protect Americans from federal gun laws that would seek to deny them the right keep arms in their homes, but from similar laws passed by state and local governments as well.

While the individual right to keep arms in the home articulated in Heller was an important development, it did nothing to answer questions about the legality of many other gun laws. And since Heller and McDonald, the Supreme Court has gone out of its way to avoid ruling on any Second Amendment cases, rejecting numerous challenges to other gun regulations.

Here in our state, the Mississippi Justice Institute filed a constitutional challenge last year to an executive order that banned the open carry of firearms in the City of Jackson, ostensibly due to Covid-19. That lawsuit relied in part on the Mississippi Constitution, which explicitly protects the open carry of firearms. But the lawsuit also alleged that the executive order violated the Second Amendment, and thus could have resulted in precedent that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms outside the home. However, the case never got that far, as the city ultimately conceded the lawsuit and a consent decree was entered by the Court which ordered the City of Jackson to never again ban the open carry of firearms.

Who would have thought that in 2021, nearly 230 years after the Second Amendment was ratified, that we still wouldn’t have firm precedent on whether Americans have a right to bear arms outside of their home? That question will likely soon be answered.

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