The Supreme Court's First Gun Rights Case With Kavanaugh On The Bench Could Be Huge

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For all of the recent attention on gun control in the United States, the issue hasn't come before the Supreme Court in nearly a decade. That's about to change, as the court announced that it will soon hear its first gun rights case since Justice Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in.

The Supreme Court issued a notice on Tuesday that it had agreed to review New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York. The plaintiffs — the Rifle & Pistol Association and three individuals — are challenging a New York law that prohibits handgun owners with "premises" licenses from bringing their firearms outside of the home under most circumstances.

The plaintiffs argue that they should be able to move handguns between any residences they own, or take them to an out-of-state shooting range. As ThinkProgress reports, New Yorkers with "premises" licenses are already allowed to take their guns to verified local shooting ranges or apply for a "carry" license to take them elsewhere. When the plaintiffs' case was rejected by the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in February, the court noted that the gun owners "do not allege that they sought and were denied such permits."

This may seem like a relatively inconsequential lawsuit, but it could actually prove to be quite important. The reason why goes back to the 2008 landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court determined that the Second Amendment guaranteed citizens' right to keep guns at home and declared it a constitutional protection in the same vein as the First Amendment's right to free speech. In 2013, the 9th Circuit used the National Rifle Association v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives case to expand upon Heller, arguing that stricter scrutiny must be applied to laws that more significantly threaten the right to bear arms.

"We agree with the prevailing view that the appropriate level of scrutiny 'depends on the nature of the conduct being regulated and the degree to which the challenged law burdens the right,'" the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas wrote in an appeal. Further outlining the standard, it continued: "A less severe regulation — a regulation that does not encroach on the core of the Second Amendment — requires a less demanding means-ends showing."

Because of this, it's often harder for a more minor gun control law — like this New York state rule — to be challenged and overturned. If the Supreme Court does rule in favor of the plaintiffs in New York State Rifle, the decision may indicate that it'll be harder for more significant gun control legislation to withstand legal challenges at that level. That's why Think Progress' Ian Millhiser argues that this lawsuit "is a huge case because it concerns a tiny issue."

According to SCOTUSblog, arguments for New York State Rifle likely won't be heard until the fall. The court will probably rule on the case in the spring of 2020.