Last year’s Supreme Court ruling dramatically expanding the reach of the Second Amendment beyond the home — and beyond reason — wasn’t the climax of the legal battle over guns in America. It was just the opening salvo.
The high court has yet to issue a single opinion in a case on its regular docket this term. But its so-called “shadow docket” — the emergency orders it considers in a way much more shielded from the prying eyes of the press and public — could soon open the door for new victories for pro-gun activists seeking to further dismantle state gun regulations in the Bay State and beyond.
Massachusetts is one of several states that acted swiftly to amend its laws after the court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. In that ruling, the court extended its precedent establishing an individual right to carry a firearm to outside the confines of the home. In so doing, it invalidated laws in New York, Massachusetts, and elsewhere that required a showing of proper cause to be issued a concealed carry license.
Now gun activists are at it again, challenging many of the new, more limited state laws in an effort to push the limits of the Second Amendment even further. One such challenge out of New York has already made it to the high court’s door.
A new provision, among others, requires licensing officials to conduct personal interviews with concealed carry applicants — something also in the Bay State’s new law. The law also requires applicants to submit social media account activity for the last three years and prohibits firearms in “sensitive places” like churches, public parks, and health care facilities.
Opponents quickly sued, and a federal court preliminarily halted provisions of the law from taking effect while the court challenge plays out. But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with New York, letting the law take full effect for now.
In the days ahead, the Supreme Court will decide whether to weigh in. The high court isn’t being asked to consider the constitutionality of the law itself at this point, but be clear: Any ruling it makes on the matter will serve up tea leaves we all will be able to read clearly. Just as the court’s shadow docket order allowing Texas’s near-complete abortion ban to take effect gave us a strong clue that Roe v. Wade was in peril, an order halting this or other revamped state gun laws would be a sure sign that they, too, are in this court’s crosshairs.
Pro-gun activists have been clearly emboldened by their recent Supreme Court victories. Just as Justice Clarence Thomas’s reasoning in Bruen was strained — contending that virtually any gun restriction must be supported by “historic analogues” from back in the time of single-shot rifles and muskets — so is the argument made by challengers. They simply brush away the state’s legitimate concern about the safety risk of more people carrying guns in public.
“In fact, it is far more likely that the opposite is true — that the presence of reasonable armed citizens enhances public safety,” the challengers’ brief to the court states. Despite being repeatedly debunked by facts, the good-guy-with-a-gun myth lives on.
Other laws, including Massachusetts’s assault weapon ban, aren’t safe either. Groups like the Gun Owners’ Action League, which sought and failed to challenge that law all the way up to the Supreme Court, are biding their time, waiting for the results of the current wave of litigation. But, as stated on GOAL’s own website, they won’t wait forever.
If state lawmakers’ hands become tied, don’t expect Congress to help. If there was any glimmer of hope that Congress might build on the important, if woefully insufficient, gun control legislation it passed last year for the first time in decades, it faded this week. The new GOP-led House, which can’t even manage to elect a speaker, did accomplish one thing: removing the magnetometers that were installed to protect members after the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, siege, making it easier for lawmakers to walk the Capitol complex with pistols on their hips if they wish. Their priorities are clear.
That leaves the legal battles to be waged between gun lobby-backed pro-firearm litigants and the state lawmakers endeavoring to protect and keep their constituents safe with sensible laws. Those challenging these laws clearly think they have the advantage, particularly at the nation’s highest court. Unfortunately, they could be right.
Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a columnist for the Globe. She may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KimberlyEAtkins.