WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court left in doubt Monday whether gun owners have a Second Amendment right to carry a firearm in public.
Without a comment or dissent, the justices turned down a gun rights challenge to a New York law that strictly limits who can legally carry a weapon when they are on the streets. To obtain a “concealed carry” permit, New Yorkers must convince a county official that they have a “special need for protection” that goes beyond living or working in a high-crime area.
Only about one-tenth of 1 percent of New Yorkers have concealed carry permits, compared with more than 6 percent in the neighboring states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the court was told.
Several gun owners who were denied a “concealed carry” permit sued, arguing they had a Second Amendment right to carry a gun for self-defense.
Rather than hear their appeal, the high court let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court that held states have broad authority to regulate guns in public.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the decision keeps in place the state’s “sensible and effective regulations of concealed handguns. This is a victory for families across New York who are rightly concerned about the scourge of gun violence.”
The court’s refusal to hear an appeal does not set a legal precedent, and the justices do not explain their reasons for turning away a case.
For now, however, the reach of the Second Amendment right “to keep and bear arms” remains uncertain.
In a pair of decisions in 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court struck down ordinances in Washington and Chicago because they prohibited all private possession of handguns, including keeping a gun at home for self-defense. The justices did not address whether this right to self-defense includes a right to be armed in public.
Most states allow law-abiding gun owners to obtain a “concealed carry” permit.
However, at least six states besides New York, including California and Illinois, have laws on the books that make it difficult or nearly impossible for gun owners to obtain a permit that allows them to be armed in public.
Those laws are under challenge in the lower courts.
The Illinois law, the nation’s strictest, was struck down in December by U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. State lawmakers are considering a new law that would permit at least some gun owners to obtain a license for carrying a weapon.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco also has heard several Second Amendment challenges to counties in California that routinely deny concealed carry permits.
The justices may well revisit the issue after rulings by several other lower courts.