Guns in America: Gorsuch and Other Supreme Court Justices to Consider Gun Case That Could Expand 2nd Amendment

Michele Gorman

The U.S. Supreme Court, including the newly confirmed conservative Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, will soon conference to discuss a gun-rights case from California that has the potential to expand the Second Amendment. 

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In Peruta v. California, the justices would decide whether the Second Amendment entitles law-abiding citizens to carry handguns outside of the home for self-defense, including concealed carry when open carry is prohibited by state law. Edward Peruta and other gun owners who were denied concealed-carry permits by the San Diego County sheriff appealed the case to the Supreme Court in January, The San Diego Tribune reported earlier this year. California has some of the strongest gun laws of all 50 states. Regarding concealed carry, every state and Washington, D.C., allows it in some form.

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Peruta first filed a lawsuit in 2009 to challenge the county’s policy of requiring “good cause” to obtain a concealed carry permit, saying the policy violates the Second Amendment. The strongest concealed carry laws in the country require applicants to demonstrate good cause or a justifiable need as to why she or he needs a permit. In California, for example, good cause exists to issue a concealed carry weapons permit when there is a clear and present danger to the applicant or the applicant’s spouse, family or employees, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The gun-rights advocates most recently lost on appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2016, when federal judges ruled that San Diego’s policy is constitutional. Earlier this week, the court rescheduled discussion related to the case. It remains unknown when the justices will meet to consider and decide whether to hear it.

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Judge Neil Gorsuch is sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as President Donald Trump watches in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 10. With Gorsuch as the court’s ninth justice, it could soon decide to hear a case involving gun rights in California. Carlos Barria/Reuters

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If the justices decide to take on the case, though, it could be the most important ruling on guns since the 2008 landmark decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller. In that ruling, the justices recognized, in a 5-4 vote, an individual’s right to keep firearms at home for self-defense. Scalia, who was a strict originalist and conservative, wrote the majority opinion in Heller, joined by Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Besides the late Scalia, those justices all still serve on the court. But the high court hasn’t yet ruled on the right to carry a gun outside of the home.

Since, the Supreme Court has rejected taking on dozens of cases fighting gun laws, including a challenge to an ordinance in an Illinois city that bans assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. The exceptions are the 2010 McDonald v. City of Chicago, which basically extends Heller beyond the federal government to the local and state levels, and the 2016 Caetano v. Massachusetts, which dealt with the use of stun guns, not traditional guns, for self-defense.

What Will Gorsuch Do?

After President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch in January, the National Rifle Association gave him a strong endorsement. The organization aired, for example, a nearly $1 million advertising campaign across the country during his Senate confirmation hearings to emphasize his impact on the Second Amendment.

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But Gorsuch, who is considered an originalist much like Scalia, hasn’t written extensively on gun rights. In 2012, he wrote that “the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own firearms and may not be infringed lightly.” In one case, he sided with a Colorado police department after an officer killed a 22-year-old man with his stun gun in 2006. He ruled the officer didn’t use excessive force.

Gorsuch also argued in favor of a convicted felon, who appealed his conviction for possessing a gun and said he shouldn’t be held accountable because he didn’t know he was considered a felon.

Gorsuch’s confirmation, which passed the Senate mostly on a partisan vote, restores the Scalia-era balance to the Supreme Court. Despite vehement opposition from most Democrats, three from red states joined their 51 Republican colleagues, who hold the majority, to solidify Gorsuch as justice.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced a separate, but similar, bill in their respective chambers to allow for national concealed carry reciprocity. The policy, backed by Trump and the NRA, would require states that issue permits allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons to recognize such permits from other states.

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