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(A new column appears here every Tuesday. Comments relating to the column are welcome and should be sent to column@danielleddylaw.com)


Law Columnist


Daniel Leddy's law column has been published by the Staten Island Advance for over 25 years, appearing every Tuesday on the editorial page.  His most recent column appears below.  An archive of his columns can be found here

                     

             GUN CASES PENDING BEFORE SUPREME COURT COULD IMPACT 2020 ELECTIONS  (8-6-19)


With the nation reeling from the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, and public officials exploiting them for political gain,  gun control will likely be a significant issue in next year’s national, state and local elections.   Potentially magnifying its impact is the real possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down one or more important decisions on this politically volatile issue during the course of the 2020 political campaign. Today’s column takes a look at two key cases awaiting action by the nation’s highest court.  

By way of background, the Second Amendment provides:  “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.  In its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller,  the Supreme Court held that this constitutional provision protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, and that this right is unconnected with militia service.  So, while many politicians and gun-control lobbyists persist in bandying about the militia clause, its irrelevance has been determined with finality. The Heller decision did emphasize, however, that common-sense bans on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally-ill will withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court reinforced its core holding in the Heller case by declaring that the right to keep and bear arms is so “fundamental” – a term of art, legally – that not only the federal government, but state and local governments as well, are constitutionally barred from abridging it.  

On Jan. 22, 2019, the court agreed to hear  New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, a constitutional challenge to Rules of the City of New York that barred premises-license holders from transporting their handguns to any place outside the city even when they are unloaded and locked up in a container separate from their ammunition.  In fact, under these rules, such handguns could only be transported to seven authorized shooting ranges within the city. One of the challengers, Staten Islander Romolo Colantone, has held a premises license for a handgun for almost 50 years. In his petition to the Supreme Court, he expressed his desire  to transport the weapon to his second home in Hancock, New York, to defend himself and his family while staying there.  He was unable to do so, he pointed out, because of New York City’s “draconian restrictions” on transporting such weapons.  As a result, he asserted, “the court’s transformational rulings (in the Heller and McDonald cases) remain theoretical for the City’s 8.5 million residents”.

Although Colantone and company had lost both at the trial-level and before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, the City apparently believed that it would be the loser before the Supreme Court. Fearing that a loss could be enunciated in an opinion significantly expanding  gun-owner rights, the city and state collaborated to change the challenged rules and, in mid-July, enact a new state law essentially giving the petitioners the relief they’re  seeking in the Supreme Court.  In light of that action, the City has asked the court to dismiss the case as moot.  

Colantone and the other petitioners are opposing that application, however, fearing that the city might reinstate the same or similar transport restrictions in the future,  and that other jurisdictions throughout the country might be emboldened to enact them for the first time.  Should the Supreme Court reject the city’s application and proceed to adjudicate the case, a decision would likely be forthcoming in early to late Spring of next year.

A second case,  Remington Arms Co. et al. v. Soto, is a suit seeking to hold a gun manufacturer partly responsible for the Dec. 14, 2012 slaughter of twenty first-grade students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.  The massacre  was carried out by 21-year-old Adam Lanza using a Bushmaster XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle. 

The plaintiffs are a survivor and the families of nine other victims.  Advancing several novel legal theories to support their suit, including a false advertising claim, they  convinced the Connecticut Supreme Court in March to allow the matter to go forward. The defendants, now seeking review by  the Supreme Court, counter that they are insulated from suit by the Protection of Lawful Commerce Act of 2005. Congress specifically  passed the legislation, they assert, to protect the arms industry from liability caused solely by the actions of others.

Should the Supreme Court agree to hear the appeal, it will bring the Sandy Hook massacre into blazing focus once again, right smack in the middle of the 2020 political season.