With Republicans and Democrats already speeding toward a familiar stalemate over whether to respond to a recent spate of mass shootings, experts on both sides of the debate predict the Supreme Court is poised to expand Second Amendment rights after a decade-long hiatus from the issue.
The only question, several court observers said, is when.
From a challenge to New York’s restrictions on carrying firearms outside a home to cases involving lifetime gun ownership bans for people convicted of certain crimes, the court’s months-old 6-3 conservative majority will soon have some high-profile opportunities to jump into the turbulent national debate over gun rights.
President Joe Biden has called for a federal response to the killings, and several Republican lawmakers have dismissed the need for stronger gun laws. The court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has sometimes been hesitant to jump into Washington’s raging political battles. Four conservative justices already signalled a desire to address outstanding Second Amendment questions, but it’s not clear if Colorado and Georgia’s recent shootings will temper that enthusiasm.
But even if the court delays, few expect it to wait for long.
“There’s no doubt that the Supreme Court is poised to take a Second Amendment case soon,” said Adam Winkler, author of “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America” and a UCLA School of Law professor. “There’s no doubt that there’s a majority of justices on the court now who’ve expressed the desire.”
The mass killings have quickly snapped Washington’s attention back to the profoundly partisan gun debate after the issue was sidelined during the coronavirus pandemic. Eight people were killed, including six Asian American women, in a series of shootings on March 16 at Atlanta-area spas and massage parlours. Ten people were killed days later in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.