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New York Tried Really Hard To Keep A Challenge To Its Gun Rules Out Of The Supreme Court. It Hasn’t Worked

Kevin Daley on October 9, 2019

A challenge to New York City’s gun transportation regulations will move forward at the Supreme Court, despite a concerted effort to convince the justices to dismiss the case.

After the justices agreed to hear a challenge to New York’s ordinance, the city relaxed its regulations and asked the high court to dismiss the case as moot. “Mootness” means that the conflict prompting a lawsuit has been resolved, making further judicial action unnecessary.

The court rejected the city’s suggestion in a short order, but indicated that the justices will keep the mootness question in mind as the case proceeds. That means the case could ultimately be dismissed on mootness grounds, even if the court is not willing to take that step now.

“The respondents’ suggestion of mootness is denied,” the order reads. “The question of mootness will be subject to further consideration at oral argument, and the parties should be prepared to discuss it.”

At issue in the dispute is a since-repealed rule forbidding New York’s licensed gun owners from carrying their firearms beyond city limits. The rule further restricted movement of weapons to one of seven authorized ranges. Several license holders challenged the ordinance in federal court. They seek to carry their weapons to vacation homes and out-of-city shooting competitions. A federal trial judge and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the city.

The Trump administration and the National Rifle Association are supporting the lawsuit.

Now before the high court, the plaintiffs say their case should not be dismissed because the 2nd Circuit’s decision should be overturned. If the dispute is mooted, the appellate court’s decision upholding the ordinance will remain good law in the 2nd Circuit’s jurisdiction. The 2nd Circuit covers Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.

In addition, the plaintiffs fear the city could revert to its original regulations at any time.

Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island filed an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief warning the justices that a ruling for gun rights could inflame the liberal push to add seats on the Supreme Court. The brief, which four other Senate Democrats joined, also broadly accused the conservative justices of bending legal rules to deliver victories for monied Republican constituencies.

Court-watchers of all persuasions questioned the wisdom of Whitehouse’s tactics. The brief’s allusion to court-packing may have created internal pressure to stand strong against political pressure — real or perceived — making dismissal less likely.

Arguments in the case, New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York No. 18-280, are set for argument on Dec. 2.

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