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Supreme Court Gun Case Could Have Implications for NY Law

January 28, 2008

New York, NY — Whether or not municipalities have the right to restrict firearms has sparked a heated discussion in the latest Republican presidential debate. It's a timely issue, because the nation's highest court will consider a Second Amendment case this spring. Although it's a Washington, D.C., case, the Supreme Court's ruling will describe the extent to which cities like New York can restrict certain weapons in an effort to quell urban violence.

The NAACP-Legal Defense Fund has filed a brief in the case. Ted Shaw, NAACP director counsel and president, says New York has a law similar to, but not quite as restrictive as, the District of Columbia law that was struck down by a lower court.

"When you talk about urban areas where gun violence is ubiquitous and people, unfortunately many of them young and black, are killing one another at alarming rates, then it's reasonable for a municipality to try to do something to restrict gun violence."

The lower court found that the Washington, D.C., law violated the Second Amendment guarantee to gun ownership. Shaw says the Supreme Court must determine the existence or scope of that ownership right, and balance it against the right of local government to enact firearms regulations to protect public safety.

Although some people believe the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms without restriction, Shaw says the Supreme Court never has held that. He says a 1939 ruling linking the right to bear arms to the need to maintain a strong militia should not apply to modern restrictions.

"When folks are engaging in this gun violence, it's not because they are keeping guns to be part of a militia. Militia meant something different in 1791 than it means now. So, we believe these laws are reasonable and necessary for the sake and lives and well-being of our citizens."

Shaw notes that the District of Columbia law does allow people to own shotguns, rifles and other weapons that are not concealable, but he argues that urban areas need to be able to protect their citizens from concealed weapons and assault rifles. Such weapons, he says, deprive many urban residents, particularly African-Americans, of the "right to live and to succeed in life."

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, in June.

Michael Clifford/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY