The Supreme Court sidestepped a major case on gun rights Monday in a dispute over New York City’s former ban on transporting firearms, reports the Associated Press. The justices threw out a challenge from gun-rights groups.
The court majority said the city’s move to ease restrictions on taking licensed, locked and unloaded guns outside the city limits, coupled with a change in state law to prevent reviving the ban, left the court with nothing to decide.
The justices asked a lower court to consider whether the city’s new rules still pose problems for gun owners. It was an anti-climactic end to a dispute, disappointing gun-rights advocates.
Gun control groups thought a conservative Supreme Court majority fortified by two appointees of President Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, might use the case to expand on landmark decisions from a decade ago that established a right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.
Other gun cases remain in pipeline and the justices could decide to hear one or more of them in their next term. Monday’s opinion was unsigned, but the court was split, 6-3, over the outcome. Gorsuch joined Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissenting from the dismissal.
“By incorrectly dismissing this case as moot, the court permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced,” Alito wrote. In an opinion agreeing with the result, Kavanaugh said he shared a concern expressed by Alito that some lower courts are not correctly applying recent Supreme Court decisions on gun rights.
Kavanaugh said the court “should address that issue soon.”
When the justices heard arguments in December on the New York case, it was the first time the high court had considered the limits of gun-control measures since the retirement of justice Anthony Kennedy, who played a pivotal role between conservatives and liberals on the issue.
Richard Dearing, representing New York City, told the court earlier that that the city would not undertake “any prosecution or action” based on the now-repealed regulations.
The lawsuit was brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association. Paul Clement, representing the association, argued that the case was still live because the new restrictions do not make clear whether his clients could be penalized, for example, for making a stop for coffee or to use the restroom while transporting their unloaded weapons to a shooting range.