The Supreme Court denied requests Monday to hear three gun-related cases, leaving in place an ambiguity about how far the Second Amendment goes in protecting gun rights outside the home that experts say the high court will have to resolve in the near future.
Justices turned back two National Rifle Association-backed cases that questioned whether the federal government and the states can impose purchase or concealed-carry restrictions on people under the age of 21, and a third case that questioned a federal law that restricts non-gun dealers from making sales across state lines.
“The NRA is disappointed but we remain committed to protecting the Second Amendment freedoms of all of America’s law-abiding gun owners,” spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in an email.
In one of the cases, the NRA had asked the justices to take up a Texas law that prevents those younger than 21 from buying handguns and prohibits them from obtaining permits to carry concealed guns in public.
The other NRA case involved a challenge to a federal law requiring handgun buyers to be at least 21 rather than 18.
The justices rejected all three cases without comment.
The high court struck down the District of Columbia’s longstanding handgun ban in 2008, then followed it up with a 2010 ruling that established a personal constitutional right to bear arms for self-defense.
But since then, states have been left trying to figure out just how far those rulings go, as the justices have declined to hear other challenges.
Adam Winkler, a constitutional expert at the UCLA School of Law, said the court will soon find it cannot ignore the cases any longer. He said in the next term, the justices will likely have to face cases that involve states that have decided they can reject issuing concealed-carry permits.
Those states are known as “may issue” jurisdictions, while other states that presume a person eligible unless they are discounted by dint of criminal record or mental problems are considered “shall issue.”
“One of the best predictors of whether a court will take a case is a split in the lower courts,” Mr. Winkler said. “It could be that the court is letting the issues percolate in the lower courts.”
Most recently, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a law in San Diego County that requires applicants for concealed-carry permits to demonstrate “good cause” as to why they need guns for personal safety.
The 7th Circuit ruled against a concealed-carry law enacted in Illinois, and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th circuit courts upheld regulations approved in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, respectively.
Edward Leddy, a former director of the Center for the Study of Firearms and Public Policy, said the Supreme Court generally doesn’t address specific issues if it doesn’t have to, but argued that a challenge over “may issue” laws like the one struck down in San Diego would force its hand in the near future.
“If they are required to answer the question and they are consistent with their past decisions, it seems to be 99 percent sure that they will consider right to carry a legitimate constitutional right,” he said.
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