NYC Lawyer Admits to SCOTUS Gun Regulation Had No Impact on Safety

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December 3, 2019

The lawyer defending New York City in a Second Amendment case on Monday admitted to the Supreme Court that the city's gun restrictions had no impact on public safety and that gun rights extend beyond the home.

During oral arguments for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York City, city attorney Richard Dearing told Justice Samuel Alito that a city regulation governing where gun owners could carry their firearms did not make residents safer. He said New York police determined "The rule could be repealed without a negative impact on public safety" before the state rolled it back. He went on to concede that the Second Amendment applies beyond the home, a core question at issue in the case.

"What I'm conceding is that, in the case of a premises license, the Second Amendment has something to say about what effective possession in the home means," Dearing told Alito during oral arguments. "And sometimes that may mean ... that a license holder needs to be able to undertake certain activities outside the home."

The comments from Dearing may weigh on how the case concludes. If the Court does not declare the case moot, as it still might, it could rule that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms outside the home. Such a decision would be a significant follow-up to the ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 case that paved the way for Second Amendment challenges at the Supreme Court. A ruling in the New York case could also have a significant impact on gun-transportation and gun-carry laws across the country.

Much of the discussion during Tuesday's oral arguments focused on whether the case was now invalidated because the regulation in question had been mostly undone. New York state rolled back the regulation after SCOTUS accepted the case, leading gun-control activists to express fear of the effects of a ruling in the plaintiffs' favor. New York City argued Tuesday that the case should be dismissed, while plaintiffs argued the change was designed to undermine the case and did not provide a full legal remedy.

The debate centered on plaintiffs' ability to recoup damages, and on whether traveling gun owners who stop "for a cup of coffee" or "to visit your mother" would be subject to prosecution under the revised gun-transportation law. While Dearing assured the justices that the city would instruct police not to arrest such individuals, he was less clear about what constituted a "reasonably necessary" stop while transporting guns. After Justices Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts pressed him, Dearing retorted that the question was beyond the case's scope.

The Court had an opportunity to void the case in the immediate aftermath of the regulation being undone, but decided to hear full arguments instead.

The justices will vote this week on how to proceed with the case, but a public announcement of their decision is likely weeks, or even months, away.