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Supreme Court takes up major gun rights case today. Here’s what’s at stake.

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Image: Adobe Stock

All eyes will be on the U.S. Supreme Court today when the high court will take up the first major Second Amendment case in more than a decade.

The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen [2], could have major implications for states and their ability to regulate guns, according to three Duke University scholars.

Law professor Joseph Blocher, co-director of the Center for Firearms Law, says this marks the first time since 2008, when the court struck down a Washington, D.C. ban on handgun ownership in the home, that gun rights or regulation have been before the nation’s highest court.

“Although the vast majority of Second Amendment challenges since Heller have failed, that is most gun regulations have been upheld against Second Amendment challenges, many states have chosen to deregulate guns in various ways that the Constitution does not specifically require,” said Blocher.

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Law professor Joseph Blocher

He notes that in the late 1980s only one state allowed an individual to carry a gun concealed in public without a permit. Now 21 states do that.

Darrell Miller, who also co-directs the Center for Firearms Law at Duke Law, agrees that much of the action on gun rights these days is happening in state houses across the nation.

“[But] this is the case that gun rights advocates have really been waiting on, and at issue in this case is one of the many open questions that were left in the District of Columbia-Heller case, under what circumstances can a person carry a firearm off his or her property and under what conditions,” Miller explained.

While Wednesday’s case deals with the permitting regimen in New York, Miller believes that it could open the door to the Supreme Court deciding how far you can carry a gun, and what guns are protected in subsequent litigation.

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Law professor Darrell Miller

Miller says New York is also a ‘may issue’ permitting state, versus a ‘shall issue’ permitting state.

“As a practical matter what this would mean if the court ends up holding the may issue regimen in New York is unconstitutional, that will impact those states that have may issue permitting schemes — states like California, New York, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maryland.”

Miller believes it could impact as many as 80 million people living in those states if New York’s may issue permit is ultimately changed.

North Carolina is a ‘shall issue’ state with concealed handgun permits.

Duke psychiatry professor Jeffrey Swanson is watching the case to ascertain what this could mean for firearm-related violence in the future.

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Psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Jeffrey Swanson

“If the state says you have the right to walk around in the community with a handgun in your pocket, more people are going to do that,” Swanson explained on Monday. “If that state can’t exercise discretion in saying who is going to get to carry a gun, you are going to have a broader range of people, including more who engage in risky behavior who are carrying a gun.”

There has been an exponential increase in the number of Americans with concealed carry permits over the last five years, according to the Duke researchers.

“You can have the same or even a declining number of violent acts, but if more of those acts involve guns, more people are going to die,” cautioned Swanson.

“And if states cannot restrict gun carrying to anybody unless they have a felony record or have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, you’re just going to have a lot more risky people with guns and then you are going to have more fatalities.”

While mass casualty shootings captivate the public’s attention whenever they occur, the country averages 109 gun death per day. Swanson noted the majority of those deaths are suicides.

NC legislators move to expand gun rights, sidestep further protections

This session, Republicans in the North Carolina House approved [6] legislation to allow elected officials to carry concealed handguns with a permit at the legislature and elsewhere. The bill (House Bill 47 [7]), however, remains in committee in the Senate.

In August, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed [8] legislation that would have repealed the state’s longstanding requirement that handgun purchasers first obtain a permit from the local sheriff’s office.

“The legislature should focus on combating gun violence instead of making it easier for guns to end up in the wrong hands,” said Cooper in issuing the veto.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders have declined to hear bills [9] in this extended session that would allow judges to temporarily restrict access to firearms through the issuance of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted such “red flag” laws.

Gun safety advocates have also be urging the General Assembly to take action on House Bill 623 [10], which would require a state permit to purchase long guns or rifles. That bill too has yet to be heard in committee.