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Supreme Court tosses dispute over New York City handgun rules

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a Second Amendment dispute between New York City and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association over since-changed rules regarding where licensed firearms owners can transport their handguns.

In an unsigned opinion, the court said the case is moot and sent the dispute back to the lower courts to decide whether the gun owners who challenged the law can still seek damages. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

In his dissenting opinion, Alito said the court still has a live case before it and said by dismissing the case as moot, "the court permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced."

"The city violated petitioners' Second Amendment right, and we should so hold," Alito, joined by Gorsuch and Thomas, wrote.

The case was brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and three firearms owners who live in New York City and argued city restrictions barring licensed firearms owners from transporting their handguns to second homes or shooting ranges outside city limits were unconstitutional.

The gun owners first challenged New York City's handgun rules in 2013, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the restrictions in 2018.

But last year, after the justices agreed to hear the case but before oral arguments were held in December, the city eased the rules to allow gun owners with "premises" licenses to transport their handguns to shooting ranges and second homes outside city bounds. Lawyers for New York City asked the high court to dismiss the case as moot, but the Supreme Court denied the request in October and said it would consider the issue at oral argument.

The Trump administration sided with gun owners and argued New York City's transport ban infringed on the right to keep and bear arms.

"In this case, the court should confirm that the Second Amendment also protects the right of a law-abiding, responsible citizen to take his firearm outside his home and to transport it to other places — such as a second home or a firing range — where he may lawfully possess that firearm," Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a filing with the Supreme Court last year.

The Justice Department said that "read naturally, the right to 'bear' firearms includes the right to transport firearms outside the home; otherwise the right to 'bear' would add nothing to the right to 'keep.'"

The case was the first involving the reach of the Second Amendment heard by the justices since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018. President Trump replaced Kennedy, long considered the court's swing vote, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, cementing the Supreme Court's 5-4 conesrvative majority.

The Supreme Court's last major rulings in cases involving gun rights came in 2008 and 2010, when it affirmed the individual's right to bear arms and ruled the Second Amendment applies to state and local gun laws.

Since then, Justice Clarence Thomas has chided the Supreme Court for its reluctance to take up cases involving gun rights. In 2018, Thomas called the Second Amendment the court's "constitutional orphan" and a "disfavored right."

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