The last time the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major ruling on the Second Amendment was in 2008, in a case called District of Columbia v. Heller. The controversy at the time was over a key constitutional question: does the Second Amendment protect an individual's right to "keep and bear arms," or is it a collective right belonging to well-regulated militias?
As longtime readers may recall, in a 5-4 ruling, the high court's conservative majority -- led in this case by the late Justice Antonin Scalia -- struck down D.C.'s ban on handgun ownership and concluded that the Constitution does, in fact, protect an individual right's to keep a handgun at home for self-defense.
But what about outside the home? NBC News reported this morning:
The Supreme Court said Monday it will consider how much protection the Second Amendment provides for carrying a gun outside the home.... The court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York state law that allows residents to carry a concealed handgun only if they can demonstrate a special need beyond a general desire for self-protection.
The state of New York's handgun licensing law has existed for over a century, and at first blush, it seems relatively straightforward: those who wish to carry loaded handguns in public can get a license to do so, but they must first show "proper cause." If, for example, your job entails moving money between banks, you'd likely be eligible for such a license.
People can also get an unrestricted concealed-weapon license if they demonstrate "a special need for self protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession."
Or as a Vox report put it, "[S]omeone might be able to obtain a license because they have a particular fear of their stalker -- but someone who merely wants to carry a gun, because of a general belief that it would be useful if they are ever the victim of a violent crime, cannot obtain a license."
According to the plaintiffs in this case, New York's licensing requirements, as a practical matter, create hurdles that are very difficult to clear. Given the high court's six-member conservative majority, they probably like their chances when the justices hear oral arguments in the fall.
But as is often the case with these kinds of legal disputes, the issue is not limited to one state's licensing requirements. Rather, depending on the scope of the eventual ruling, what's at stake in the case is state policymakers' power to limit how many people are carrying guns in public within their borders.
Watch this space.