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Gun control: Supreme Court weighs taking up new case on gun rights

Undated file photo of a handgun.
April 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Supreme Court is expected to consider a new appeal aimed at loosening state restrictions on guns.

The justices are meeting privately on Friday to discuss adding new cases for the term, which starts in the fall. One of those cases is an appeal of a federal court ruling that upheld New York's strict rules for carrying concealed weapons in public.

The National Rifle Association and 20 states are supporting an appeal by five New York residents who say that strict state law violates their constitutional gun rights. This comes nearly five years after a landmark Supreme Court decision in favor of gun rights. It also comes four months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn.

The court could decide as early as Monday whether it will hear the case.

Experts say the issue of whether people have a right to be armed in public is likely to get the attention of the high court at some point. The court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller focused mainly on the right to defend one's own home, but it did not delve into how broadly the Second Amendment may protect gun rights in other settings.

In November, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a state law that requires those who want to carry handguns to show a special need for self-protection. California has a similar law, and so does Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Alan Gura, a lawyer who is representing the New Yorkers, said that by upholding such state laws, lower courts are undermining constitutional protections for gun owners.

But University of California at Los Angeles law professor Adam Winkler, an expert on the legal dispute over guns, said the time may not be right for the high court's review. He says the justices have to be aware of the current politics of guns.

"Newtown makes it less likely the justices will want to wade into the gun issue," Winkler said.

Another factor that often influences the justices' decision to take up a case is when lower courts come to different conclusions about the law's meaning. Gura's clients and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, defending the law, disagree about whether there is a split among federal appeals courts.

In December, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago struck down the only statewide ban on carrying concealed weapons, in Illinois. The court gave state lawmakers until June to adopt a law that takes account of the ruling. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has said she will wait to see what the state legislature does before deciding whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Gura said the Illinois ruling "brings this split into sharp relief at the federal appellate level."

However, Schneiderman said the decision in Illinois stressed the unique nature of the state law that was struck down and contrasted that law with the statutes in New York and elsewhere that give officials wide discretion in deciding whether to grant permits to carry guns in public.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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