April 27, 2020

Supreme Court Decides New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., v. City of New York

On April 27, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., v. City of New York in a per curiam decision, holding that a claim for declaratory and injunctive relief against New York City’s rule limiting the transportation of firearms became moot when the City changed its rule and New York State amended its firearm-licensing statute.

In 2001, New York City enacted a rule providing that licensed handgun owners could transport their guns to shooting ranges within the City but almost nowhere else. In particular, the rule did not allow owners to transport a handgun out of the city, including to a second home or a gun range. Three New York City residents, joined by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, filed a lawsuit alleging that the rule violated the Second Amendment, the dormant Commerce Clause, and their right to interstate travel. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief authorizing them to transport their guns out of the City to a second home or gun range. The district court dismissed the claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.

After the Supreme Court granted review in January 2020, New York City amended its rule to allow licensed handgun owners to transport their handguns to second homes and shooting ranges outside the five boroughs. New York State reinforced that change by amending its handgun licensing statute. The City then argued that the case was moot.

In a 6-3 per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment below and remanded for further proceedings, concluding that the appeal — although not the case as a whole — had become moot. The plaintiffs argued that the appeal was not moot because they could seek damages caused by the old rule, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief against the new rule, which they said forbids a handgun owner from stopping on the way out of town, requires written permission to take a handgun to a gunsmith, and precludes transporting a handgun to a summer rental house. The Court held that these arguments did not suffice to preserve the appeal in the Supreme Court because they had not been raised below, but it remanded the case for the arguments to be presented to the lower courts in the first instance.

The decision of the Court was per curiam. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined and Justice Thomas joined in part.

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