The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to restrictions on carrying firearms outside the home, teeing up a potentially landmark dispute over the scope of the Second Amendment.
In an unsigned order, the justices took up a bid by two gun owners and a New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association to challenge the state’s denial of their applications for concealed carry licenses for self-defense.
The case represents the first time the 6-3 conservative court will hear arguments over the nation’s long-running and fraught debate about gun rights in America.
It will be heard next term, which begins in October.
The court has declined to insert itself in similar cases in recent years and has not issued a major Second Amendment decision in over a decade when it ruled in a pair of cases in 2008 and 2010 that individuals have a right to keep guns in their homes.
With the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett last year significantly shifting the court's ideological balance to the right, court watchers have been waiting to see if the new majority would seek to revisit states' gun restrictions.
In the brief order issued Monday, the justices said they would hear the case and focus on whether "the State's denial of petitioners' applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, who were denied concealed carry permits for self-defense because New York officials had determined that they had failed to show a "special need" to carry weapons as required under state law.
Their lawsuit argues that such restrictions on concealed carry permits violate the Second Amendment. If they prevail in front of the Supreme Court, it could upend concealed carry laws across the country.
In a brief filed with the court in December, the gun rights activists called it "the single most important unresolved Second Amendment question" since the last major guns decision in 2010.
"A law that flatly prohibits ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying a handgun for self-defense outside the home cannot be reconciled with the Court’s affirmation of the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," they wrote. "The Second Amendment does not exist to protect only the rights of the happy few who distinguish themselves from the body of 'the people' through some 'proper cause.' To the contrary, the Second Amendment exists to protect the rights of all the people."
The New York state attorney general's office responded with its own brief, arguing that the law has been in place for over a century and the requirement that concealed-carry permit applicants demonstrate a proper cause is not overly restrictive or incompatible with the Supreme Court's rulings on the Second Amendment.
"This flexible standard, which numerous New York residents have successfully satisfied, generally requires a showing that the applicant has a non-speculative need for self-defense," New York's lawyers wrote. "Absent such a need, applicants may receive a 'premises' license that allows them to keep a firearm in their home or place of business, or a 'restricted' license that allows them to carrying public for any other purposes for which they have shown a non-speculative need—such as hunting, target shooting, or employment."
The brief noted that Nash and Koch were both granted restricted licenses.