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Supreme Court declines to hear host of gun rights cases

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Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away a host of challenges to state laws placing restrictions on firearms, declining to take up the contentious matter of gun rights in the U.S. after sidestepping the issue in April.

In declining to take up the appeals, the justices leave intact laws from several states that gun rights supporters said violated their Second Amendment rights. Among the cases turned away were legal battles over laws in at least four states — Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey — that require residents to meet certain criteria in order to get a permit, including demonstrating a specific need, to carry a handgun outside the home.

In one of the cases out of Massachusetts, the justices declined to weigh in on the state's ban on certain semiautomatic firearms and high-capacity magazines. A dispute over a similar rule in Cook County, Illinois, was also rejected by the Supreme Court. In the case from California, the justices turned away a challenge to a state law that requires handguns sold in the state to use microstamping technology and meet specific design requirements.

The legal battle from New Jersey involved a state law that requires residents to demonstrate they have a "justifiable need" to carry a firearm, which can be satisfied if a private citizen can "specify in detail the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by other means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun."

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, dissented from the court's denial of certiorari in the New Jersey case, writing it is time for the Supreme Court should not prolong its "decade-long failure to protect the Second Amendment."

"This Court would almost certainly review the constitutionality of a law requiring citizens to establish a justifiable need before exercising their free speech rights. And it seems highly unlikely that the Court would allow a State to enforce a law requiring a woman to provide a justifiable need before seeking an abortion," Thomas wrote. "But today, faced with a petition challenging just such a restriction on citizens' Second Amendment rights, the Court simply looks the other way."

The cases presented the Supreme Court with the chance to expand the scope of the Second Amendment, which it has declined to do since its last major ruling in a gun rights case in 2010. 

While the justices heard oral arguments in December to a New York City ordinance restricting where licensed handgun owners could transport their locked and unloaded firearms, the Supreme Court dismissed the case because the measure was rescinded. But Kavanaugh urged his colleagues at the time to address the issue "soon," potentially with one of the many gun rights cases pending before it.

The Supreme Court has largely shied away from taking up gun rights disputes since its 2008 decision in Heller v. District of Columbia, in which the Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment protects the right to have guns in the home for self-defense, and the 2010 case McDonald v. Chicago, in which the justices ruled the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to the states.

The reluctance of the justices to take on such a politically fraught issue prompted  Thomas to rebuke his colleagues in 2018. Thomas wrote in a dissent after the court rejected a challenge to California firearms law that his fellow justices have made the Second Amendment a "disfavored right" and the Supreme Court's "constitutional orphan."

Gun rights supporters hoped the high court, now with a 5-4 conservative majority, would now bolster the Second Amendment.

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