You are on trial in Washington, D.C. You’ve been on trial for 230 years. You’ve won some and lost some. But soon comes the first U.S. Supreme Court argument about the Second Amendment in a generation.
Setting Up D.C. vs. Heller: We Lose One
On February 4, 1997, Adrian Plesha discovered burglar Gregory Jones in his Capitol Hill home in Washington, D.C. Plesha grabbed his SIG and shot Jones three times in the back as he was fleeing. In court, Jones admitted vandalizing Plesha’s row house.
Plesha was arrested for carrying an illegal pistol. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 120 hours of community service. Jones got probation.
Dick Anthony Heller, another D.C. resident, read the story and said he “went ballistic.” Plesha’s arrest offended Heller’s sense of justice and, he believed, violated Plesha’s right to bear arms. Heller set up a defense fund for Plesha and began working to overturn the D.C. gun ban.
Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Second Amendment
In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller1, the Supreme Court decided an individual — the same Dick Heller2 — could keep a handgun for self-defense in his home. The Court also ruled that D.C.’s requirement that lawfully owned rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock” was unconstitutional. Still, Second Amendment rights were not unlimited, the court said, and government could regulate firearms.
Heller’s was the first Supreme Court case to decide whether the Second Amendment protects individual rights to keep and bear arms for self-defense or other purposes (hunting, target shooting) or whether that right was intended solely for government militias. The decision didn’t prohibit many existing federal limitations to gun ownership though: limitations for convicted felons and the mentally ill or limitations preventing firearms in schools and government buildings.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association: A Once a Generation Second Amendment Court Case
And now New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (NYSRPA) v. Bruen has been accepted for argument by the Supreme Court. Who are they and why should we care?
The Association3, an NRA-affiliated not-for-profit 501(c)4 organization, is New York’s largest and the nation’s oldest firearms advocacy organization. Since 1871, it has advocated for Second Amendment rights, firearm safety, education and training, and the shooting sports.
A lawyer with law enforcement experience, Kevin Bruen is superintendent of the New York State Police. He commands more than 5,000 troopers, investigators and civilian support staff.
The issue between the New York Association and Bruen is, effectively, that fewer than 1 percent of New Yorkers have a concealed carry permit — about 196,000 says the USCCA Gun Laws page.
In theory, New York is a may-issue state. But in practice it is basically a no-issue state. It offers no concealed carry reciprocity with any other state, and all handguns must be registered. An applicant for a concealed carry permit must show “proper cause:” a special need. To buy a handgun from a private individual requires another permit and a background check. Private sales must be processed by a licensed firearms dealer.
Tom King, president of the New York Association, argues that New York gun laws make it nearly impossible for anyone to carry a handgun for self-defense. The USCCA, which supports the Association, says New York laws “prevent responsible Americans from protecting themselves.”
Now, for the first time in more than a decade, the Supreme Court will review a Second Amendment case. And it could change America’s gun rights landscape. NY Attorney General Letitia James will represent the state in this case. Presenting the case for the Association and for all of us who appreciate the U.S. Bill of Rights will be Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis, Washington, D.C.
Updated October 2021
The final reply brief was filed on October 14, and the Argument date is set for November 3.
2 Heller was a “special police officer.” He was issued, and carried, a handgun for his job. He could provide safety and security services for an assigned area or company. He could also work as an auxiliary, supporting full-time officers or in a fire police or company police unit. Federal law however prevented him from keeping a handgun in his DC home.
3 The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association web site is nysrpa.org (telephone 518-272-2654; email [email protected]). To donate, send a check to NYSRPA Political Victory Fund, 713 Columbia Turnpike, East Greenbush, NY 12061. To access the complete list of parties involved and the dozens of legal motions from petitioners and respondents, go to www.supremecourt.gov.