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Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in gun-rights case

The Supreme Court will take up its first major gun-rights case in nearly a decade today.  It will hear oral arguments over a now-repealed New York City law that restricted how gun owners could transport some firearms, making it illegal for a licensed gun to be taken beyond city limits.

Three residents challenged the regulation arguing that it violated their second amendment rights. They lost their case in two lower courts, and earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case. The city then repealed the New York City law, after which the state legislature passed a law prohibiting any local government in the state from passing similar laws. 

Gun control advocates fear that if the the Supreme Court — which now has a conservative majority — sides with the appellants, it could help the National Rifle Association fight about 300 local gun restrictions across the country. They also say that the case is now moot because it has been repealed. 

Hannah Shearer from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told NBC News, “What’s really on the line is our progress against gun violence and the future of life-saving gun safety laws.”

Gun-rights advocates argue the case is not moot. They say the law, repealed or not, did not merely infringe on individual privileges, but instead was unconstitutional to begin with. In a brief filed to the court, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association argued, “The City’s late-breaking attempt to frustrate this Court’s review not only casts considerable doubt on any claim that the City will respect petitioners’ rights going forward … but falls far short of giving petitioners everything they could obtain in a successful lawsuit culminating in declaratory and injunctive relief.”

The case is emblematic of the highly-charged nationwide debate over firearms restrictions. Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse filed a brief with the court saying that the Supreme Court is in danger of appearing partisan. “With bare partisan majorities, the Court has influenced sensitive areas like voting rights, partisan gerrymandering, dark money, union power, regulation of pollution, corporate liability, and access to federal court, particularly regarding civil rights and discrimination in the workplace. Every single time, the corporate and Republican political interests prevailed,” he noted in the brief.

Republicans countered that the Whitehouse brief appeared to be a threat that Democrats would try and pack the court in their favor in the future. Gun-rights advocates hope a Supreme Court win in this case will extend landmark rulings in 2008 and 2010 on the right to have a gun for self-defence at home. That worries those who want tougher gun laws.

“This approach to the Second Amendment would treat gun rights as an absolute right, frozen in history, and not subject to any restrictions as public safety demands,” Shearer told the New York Times.

The court is expected to issue a decision in June.

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