Future case could touch on a larger issue: whether the right to firearms extends beyond the home to public places.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider any new cases seeking to expand gun rights, including two challenges to restrictions on young adults.
The decision does not preclude the court eventually agreeing to consider the next big legal issue in the national debate over guns: whether the right to keep a gun at home for self-defense extends to public places.
In fact, a federal appeals court panel's divided ruling this month in a California case makes it more likely that the question of guns outside the home will be heading to the high court soon.
The petitions denied Monday included challenges to a federal and a state law restricting access to young adults. The federal law blocks those ages 18 to 20 from buying guns from licensed dealers. The Texas law doesn't allow them to carry guns in public, as others can do with a license.
Ever since Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a divided court in 2008 that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to possess guns at home, the question of public places has been looming. Many states impose restrictions, such as requiring a demonstrated need to carry a gun, whether concealed or in plain sight. Most lower courts have upheld those restrictions.
To date, the biggest split from that trend involved an Illinois law that was much more restrictive than those in other states. Its ban on carrying concealed weapons in nearly all circumstances was struck down by a 7th Circuit appeals court panel. Rather than appealing to the Supreme Court, however, the state amended the law to allow for public possession, with restrictions.
The question for the court to answer, eventually, is whether such restrictions are constitutional. The high court has batted down several petitions in recent years from firearms groups rather than answer that question. After the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the issue became more politically charged.
A decision earlier this month by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals changes the equation. The majority opinion struck down San Diego County's restrictions as a violation of Second Amendment rights. It may be reviewed by the full appeals court, but if the ruling holds, it would represent a clear split with other appeals court rulings that have upheld restrictions.
"The Second Amendment does require that the states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home," the panel said. "States may not destroy the right to bear arms in public under the guise of regulating it."
Soon, however, the court will consider a petition that presents the issue squarely. Opponents of New Jersey's restrictions on carrying guns in public have asked the justices to overrule a 3rd Circuit appeals court ruling in Drake v. Jerejian that upheld the state law. Now that the 9th Circuit has ruled the other way, either case could provide a Supreme Court showdown.