Nancy Solomon: I'm Nancy Solomon and you're listening to The Takeaway. This week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a landmark case that may transform gun laws in the country as we know it. The case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlette will answer the question of whether New York's laws on concealed carry gun licenses violate the Second Amendment. This has the potential to affect other state gun laws around the country. The case is taking place with gun violence front of mind for many of us. As of Monday, there have been 160 mass shootings in the US since January.
Here to help us understand the case and its implications is Ian Millhiser, senior correspondent with Vox and the author of the new book, The Agenda: How a RepublicanSupremeCourt is Reshaping America. Ian, great to have you back.
Ian Millhiser: It's good to be here. Thanks so much.
Nancy Solomon: Give us the basics of this case, what exactly is being argued here?
Ian Millhiser: Sure. This is a challenge to New York's concealed carry permitting law. New York law requires you to show that the word [unintelligible 00:01:12] a proper cause to obtain a gun permit. You could obtain that for a lot of reasons. If you're a shop owner and you're afraid that someone might try to knock over your shop, you could have a gun, but there might be a restriction on your permit so you've got to keep the gun in the shop. If you're a bank messenger, if you're someone who carries large stacks of bills back and forth between banks, there's obvious reasons why you might want to be armed.
You can get a permit saying, "While you're on the job, you can have that gun." The state is very reluctant to grant unlimited carry permits. You have to show that you have some special fear of violence that goes beyond the general public. If you just want a gun because you think you might someday be a victim of violent crime, that's not enough. If you have a stalker, that might be enough because that would set you aside from the general population. Essentially, what the plaintiffs want in this case is they want a world where virtually anyone can get a permit and can get a permit without restrictions.
You'd no longer have to show proper cause, you'd no longer have to show that you had any special need, you just go and say, "Hey, I want a gun permit," and you'd probably be able to get one.
Nancy Solomon: These New York State gun laws, how prevalent is this around the country in terms of states that have these kinds of restrictions on when you can carry a gun?
Ian Millhiser: There are still fairly common. In states controlled by Republicans, the trend is often towards making it easier and easier and easier to get guns, and in states controlled by Democrats, restrictions have tended to remain in place. This idea that not just anyone can carry a concealed firearm, isn't particularly unusual and it particularly isn't unusual in cities. In urban environments, I think people tend to have a lot of fears that you interact with a lot of people and you don't want every person you run into on the street to potentially have a Glock under their jacket.
Nancy Solomon: Tell us a bit about the people who are bringing the case. Who are they and what's their best argument that they've got?
Ian Millhiser: The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association is basically the New York State equivalent of the NRA. This is a big gun-rights group. Honestly, their best argument is that they've got the votes. The history here is that up until 2008, the Supreme Court said that there wasn't an individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. It wasn't until a case called DC v. Heller in 2008, that the Supreme Court said that there is this individual right. Heller has a lot of caveats, it says that there can still be bans on what are called dangerous and unusual weapons.
There could be bans on felons and people with mental illness carrying guns. There can be bans on guns in what are called sensitive places. There's just still a lot of gun laws that are allowed under Heller. This whole time since Heller was decided, there has been a crew of dissenting judges in the lower courts who've been pushing for greater and greater restrictions on state gun laws. One of the judges is Brett Kavanaugh. Another is Amy Coney Barrett. Really what's going on here is just that, the crew of judges that have been pushing to have a very expansive view of the Second Amendment now have power.
There are six Republicans on the Supreme Court, so I think that this case is likely to come down less to the quality of the arguments and more to just the brute force of the fact that the gun rights groups have the votes.
Nancy Solomon: Is that the sum total reason for the timing that this is coming forward at this moment? Was the NRA lying in wait for their majority on the Supreme Court to bring a case like this?
Ian Millhiser: Gun groups have been bringing cases pretty consistently to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court's really been swatting them down. It's actually very unusual that Heller was the sea change that completely changed our understanding of the Second Amendment. Said for the first time, there's an individual right. Then since Heller, the Supreme Court said virtually nothing about what the Second Amendment means. The lower courts have built up a framework, but the Supreme Court has done very little to flesh out what it meant by Heller.
I think the reason for that is that, for most of the post-Heller era, the balance of power on the Supreme Court was held by Chief Justice Roberts and by Justice Kennedy. Roberts and Kennedy, I think, just don't care that much about guns. You had some members of the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas was the most vocal, who were saying, "Hey, we need to take more gun cases. Let's flesh out Heller. Let's have a more expansive Second Amendment," but they were screaming into a void. What has changed isn't that the gun groups have suddenly started bringing cases, it's that now they have the votes on the Supreme Court, not just to win their cases but they actually have enough votes to get the Supreme Court to hear this case in the first place.
Nancy Solomon: If the NRA wins the case, then what's the next step after that, or what do you expect to see? Do we just see state gun laws around open carry falling across the country?
Ian Millhiser: It matters a lot what the opinion says. The short answer is that every court in the country will be bound by whatever is in the Supreme Court's opinion. I think, given the Supreme Court that we have right now, I think they're going to take a very expansive approach to the Second Amendment. We're going to see a lot of gun regulations fall. Certainly, I think that throughout the country, it's probably going to be the case that virtually anyone can obtain a concealed carry permit.
Nancy Solomon: Ian Millhiser is a senior correspondent with Vox and the author of TheAgenda: How a Republican Supreme Court is Reshaping America. Ian, thanks so much for joining us.
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