U.S. Supreme Court sidesteps major gun rights ruling

FILE PHOTO: The buliding of the U.S. Supreme Court is pictured in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Will Dunham

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a challenge to New York City restrictions on handgun owners transporting their firearms outside the home, meaning the justices for now will not be wading into the battle over the scope of the right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The justices threw out the dispute at hand because the measure that was challenged by individual gun owners and the state’s National Rifle Association affiliate was rolled back by the city last July, rendering the case moot. The city had asked the Supreme Court not to hear the matter. The justices went ahead and heard arguments on Dec. 2 but ultimately agreed with the city.

The case was sent back to lower courts to determine whether the gun owners may seek damages or press claims that the amended law still infringes their rights. Justice Samuel Alito, in a dissent joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, said the case was not moot and that the city’s law ran afoul of the Second Amendment.

Although the New York case will no longer be decided, there are other challenges to gun regulations pending at the court. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while agreeing the current dispute is moot, said in a concurring opinion that the court “should address that issue soon.”

President Donald Trump’s administration had supported the NRA and the gun owners in the case. The powerful lobby group is closely aligned with U.S. conservatives and Republicans including Trump.

Gun control proponents had feared that the justices would use the case to widen gun rights by either extending the right to possess firearms for self-defense beyond the home or by creating a strict standard that would force lower courts to cast a skeptical eye on new or existing gun control laws.

Such a ruling could have threatened a wide array of gun control measures nationwide such as expanded background checks for gun buyers and “red flag” laws targeting the firearms of people deemed dangerous by the courts, according to these advocates.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

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