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Supreme Court takes NYC gun rights case 

A police officer guards the Supreme Court on

A police officer guards the Supreme Court on Oct. 9, 2018. The court is taking up its first gun rights case in nearly a decade. Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to New York City's ban on carrying a licensed and unloaded handgun outside the city limits, the first Second Amendment case in nearly a decade.

The court's decision Tuesday to hear the appeal, filed by three New York residents and New York's National Rifle Association affiliate, could signal renewed interest in gun rights by a more conservative bench. The case will be argued in the court's next session, which begins in October.

The city law ordinance, the only one of its kind in the nation, allows licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons — locked and unloaded — to the seven gun ranges inside city limits. The city residents who sued want to practice shooting at ranges outside the city or take their guns to second homes elsewhere in New York State.

The challengers are represented by Paul Clement, a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, who urged the justices to elaborate on the extent of constitutional gun rights the Supreme Court declared in decisions in 2008 and 2010. The court had previously rejected several appeals.

Clement described the case as "a perfect vehicle to reaffirm that those decisions and the constitutional text have consequences." 

New York City's Law Department had asked the justices to reject the case, arguing that the restrictions allowed the NYPD to reduce the number of guns carried in public.

Of the high court's decision, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city needs the law to keep guns off the streets and will fight vigorously to protect the ban.

"We believe that our gun laws protect people in this city, and law enforcement in this city believes that, too, so we'll fight vigorously to protect what we have," de Blasio said at a news conference on health insurance. "I'm absolutely concerned, because, again, anything that takes away our right to protect our own people would hurt this city deeply. We're the safest big city in America for a reason. The laws we have now are working."

The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, the NRA affiliate, praised the high court's decision.

"This is a good civil-rights case," association president Tom King said. "This is a travel issue restricting the rights of a person who's lawful and legal in the United States to travel.... It has nothing to do with safety in New York City."

Joining in support of gun rights, 17 states said the court should break its yearslong silence and use the case to define the scope of gun rights under the Constitution and the level of scrutiny, or skepticism, judges should apply to gun laws.

Legal analysts see the court as more conservative than it has been in decades. 

In the past two years, two justices have been replaced by nominees of President Donald Trump. Justice Neil Gorsuch took the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh succeeded retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who court observers considered a swing vote on the court.  

Kavanaugh had a conservative record as a federal appeals judge, and the challenge to the city's ban will be his first gun case as a justice.  

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an anti-gun policy think tank, raised a red flag about Kavanaugh and the role he could play in the upcoming challenge.

 “Today is a warning that we could see a new, more activist Supreme Court taking steps to limit gun safety laws…,"  Hannah Shearer, the center's Second Amendment litigation director, said in a statement. "With a number of other gun safety cases in the pipeline, this is the first signal that Justice Kavanaugh may lead the Court to chip away at laws that have broad public support and were signed into law by leaders on both sides of the aisle.”

With The Associated Press

Here’s what you need to know about gun legislation in New York State and on Long Island:

What is the law on gun ownership in New York State?

A pistol license and background check are required to possess a handgun in New York State. No license is needed to buy a rifle or shotgun, except in New York City, though a background check is conducted.

New York is one of a small number of states where local governments can enact legislation that varies from state law.

For instance, in New York City, pistol licenses must be renewed every three years for a fee of $340. In Nassau and Suffolk counties, licenses need to be renewed every five years.

The safe-storage requirements in New York City and Albany are also stricter than the rest of the state. Guns must be secured with a trigger lock when unattended in New York City; in Albany, unattended guns can also be secured in a safe.

Are there assault weapons restrictions?

Yes. After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the state passed the SAFE Act, banning all assault-style weapons except for those considered antique or purchased before January 2013.

Magazines that hold more than 10 rounds are also prohibited.

Anyone who owns a pre-ban weapon was required to register with the state.

While fully automatic weapons are illegal, state law does currently allow for the sale of “bump stocks” and other devices that can be applied to semi-automatic rifles to allow for quicker firing.

Who can own a gun?

You must be at least 21 years old, unless you have been honorably discharged from the armed forces, to obtain a license for a handgun.

Applicants can’t have prior felony or “serious offense” convictions, which include child endangerment, unlawful entry and certain kinds of drug offenses.

People who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility cannot be issued a license.

Mental health professionals in the state are required to report to their county director of community services any patients they consider “likely to engage in conduct that could seriously harm” themselves or others. The state then determines if the patient is ineligible to own a firearm.

If the applicant is not a U.S. citizen, they must be living in the country legally.

What’s the legal process to get a handgun in New York?

In most of the state, pistol licenses are issued through the county court.

In New York City, Nassau and parts of Suffolk County, applications are processed through the respective police departments. The Suffolk Sheriff’s Office handles applications for residents of the county’s five East End towns.

The application fee in Nassau is $200. It is $10  in Suffolk, with additional fees for fingerprinting.

On Long Island, you must also get a purchase document from the police department or sheriff’s office. After buying a gun from a retail store or online, it must be taken to the licensing authority to have it added onto a pistol license.

Before a gun can be transferred from dealer to purchaser, federal law requires either the completed background check or for three business days to pass. A proposed bill in New York would increase that to 10 days.

How many pre-ban assault weapons are there in the state?

According to New York State Police, 44,160 assault weapons have been registered as of last February.

Which state has the strictest gun laws?

California has the strictest gun-control measures, according to a 2016 analysis by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state was the only one to earn an A on the Giffords Center’s report card judging states on whether they have regulations in place like concealed carry laws or require private sale background checks.

New York was given an A-.

Which state has the most lenient gun laws?

Mississippi. The state fell to the bottom of the Giffords report card after it enacted a 2016 law allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm without a state-issued permit.

— Rachel Uda and Zachary R. Dowdy

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