WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday said it would not consider a major Second Amendment question that has divided the lower courts: May states bar or strictly limit the carrying of guns in public for self-defense?
The justices rejected a case concerning a New York state law that requires people seeking permits to carry guns in public to demonstrate that they have a special need for self-protection. In urging the justices to hear the case, the National Rifle Association called the law ‘‘a de facto ban on carrying a handgun outside the home.’’
As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for declining to hear the case.
In November, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York upheld the law. California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have similar laws.
Also Monday, key measures of New York’s tough new gun law kicked in, with owners of firearms now reclassified as assault weapons required to start registering the firearms and new limits on the number of bullets allowed in magazines.
As the new provisions took effect, New York’s affiliate of the National Rifle Association planned a court request for a US injunction to immediately halt to the magazine limit.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns, and it struck down a District of Columbia law that barred keeping guns in homes for self-defense.
‘‘We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country,’’ Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller. ‘‘But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.’’
Aside from saying that total bans on the right to keep guns at home for self-defense are unconstitutional, the court has said little else about what other laws might violate the Second Amendment. On the other hand, the Heller decision did include a long list of laws and regulations that would be unaffected by the ruling. Among them were ‘‘laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools.’’
In the lower courts, very few challenges to gun laws and gun prosecutions since the Heller decision have succeeded.
A major exception came in December, just days before the Newtown, Conn., shootings, when a divided three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, struck down an Illinois law that banned carrying guns in public.
Judge Richard A. Posner, writing for the majority, said the ruling was required by the Heller decision. The court gave the Illinois Legislature six months to modify the law.
Posner reviewed the empirical literature about the practical consequences for crime and safety of bans on carrying guns in public, and he found it inconclusive.
‘‘Anyway,’’ Posner wrote, ‘‘the Supreme Court made clear in Heller that it wasn’t going to make the right to bear arms depend on casualty counts.’’
The Illinois decision is in tension with the one from New York, and such conflicts often prompt Supreme Court review. Last month, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., upheld the Maryland law.
The case rejected Monday was brought by five New Yorkers who had been denied permits to carry guns in public. In urging justices not to hear the case, Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, said the state’s permit requirement was a reasonable rule consistent with the Second Amendment. The Illinois law, by contrast, he said, amounted to a blanket prohibition.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan of Illinois has said that she will wait to see what the Illinois Legislature does before deciding whether to ask the Supreme Court to hear the decision striking down the Illinois law.