SALT LAKE CITY — While the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the Constitution protects the right to carry a gun outside the home, a new Utah law making it easier to pack a concealed firearm in public takes effect next week.
The decision to take up the issue comes as a spate of mass shootings have rocked the country.
In 2008, the court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense. The justices now will consider a challenge to a New York law that requires anyone who wants to carry a gun in the state to show a good reason for doing so.
The high court's decision in the New York State Pistol & Rifle Association v. Corlett could have major implications for laws in many states that restrict carrying a gun in public.
The case involves New York's 108-year-old law that requires someone who wishes to carry a handgun in public to show "proper cause" in order to obtain a license allowing them to do so. Two men challenged the law after the state rejected their applications seeking concealed-carry permits for self-defense.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals based in Manhattan upheld the law, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Courts in New York have established an applicant must "demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession" to get an unrestricted license to carry a gun. Merely wanting to carry for protection against the possibility of being a crime victim isn't enough of a reason under the state's law.
That isn't the case in Utah.
While the state allows anyone over age 21 to openly carry a gun without a license, it has required a permit to pack a concealed firearm, though an applicant doesn't have to provide any justification to get a license.
But a new law taking effect May 5 removed the state's requirement for Utahns to have a permit to legally carry a concealed firearm.
Earlier this year, Utah became the latest state to adopt a so-called "constitutional carry" law. The bill sailed through the Republican-controlled House and Senate and newly elected GOP Gov. Spencer Cox quickly signed the measure in February.
The new law did not do away with Utah's concealed carry permit program, which requires a criminal background check and attending a training course from a certified instructor. The course includes a suicide prevention video but does not require a demonstration of firearms proficiency or even firing a gun.
Whether gun owners continue to obtain a permit now that it isn't required remains to be seen.
A Deseret New/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in February found 55% of Utahns say gun owners should not be able to carry and cover their firearms in public without a license.
In the New York case, the plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to rule on the broad question of whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense.
But in accepting the case, the justices narrowed the question to whether New York's denial of the two men's applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.
The National Rifle Association backs the plaintiffs in the case.
"The court rarely takes Second Amendment cases. Now it's decided to hear one of the most critical Second Amendment issues. We're confident that the court will tell New York and the other states that our Second Amendment right to defend ourselves is fundamental, and doesn't vanish when we leave our homes," Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement Monday.
New York is one of eight states — along with California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii — that the NRA says prevents most people from getting a permit to carry a gun.
Eric Tirschwell, a lawyer with Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, said an increase in gun violence during the pandemic makes the stakes especially high.
"A ruling that opened the door to weakening our gun laws could make it even harder for cities and states to grapple with this public health crisis," Tirschwell, managing director of Everytown's litigation arm, said in a statement to Bloomberg. "Fortunately, the courts have repeatedly backed states' authority to pass public safety laws, and while the Supreme Court's makeup has changed, the Constitution has not."
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the New York case in the fall and issue a ruling next year.