An aphorism often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but which was widely in use in the early 1800s reads: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” And a case just heard before the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirms the truth of that dictum, especially here, in not-so-free 21st Century America.
The case’s wellspring is New York City, and it’s called, “New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc, Et Al v. City of New York, NY, Et Al” it’s a conflict involving local political infringement on the right to keep and bear arms, and it’s both revealing and important – not just as an illustration of the desperate and vile lengths collectivists will go to chip away at basic human rights, but also as a display of the infuriating way certain SCOTUS justices behave while in their black-robe costumes.
The case was heard in oral arguments on Monday, and the details are easy to carry in one’s memory.
Until a few months ago, the City of New York allowed very restricted, licensed ownership of firearms, making them practically serviceable only in one’s home, and it prohibited the transport of licensed firearms outside the city, which, as anyone familiar with fundamental rights and the US Constitution knows, is a big, big no-no for any political body to do.
So the plaintiffs -- numerous NYC residents working with the New York Rifle and Pistol Association – brought suit. And, though, they got shot down in 2018 by both a Federal District Court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, they kept fighting, eventually getting their case accepted by the SCOTUS in January of 2019.
This appears to have lit a fire under politicians in New York City and New York State overall. As Amy Howe writes for SCOTUSBlog:
That announcement was significant, because the (SCOTUS) justices had not taken on a Second Amendment case for nearly a decade. But over the summer the city urged the justices to dismiss the case before it could be argued, explaining that because it had repealed the ban and the state had changed its laws, the gun owners had received everything that they had asked for. The justices declined to do so, instead setting the case for oral argument today.
So what do we have so far…
We have a municipality infringing on the right of people to keep and bear arms inside and outside the city limits, inviting unwarranted searches of city residents who might be “suspected” by police of returning to the city after having taken their guns beyond the city proper, and the city deterring city gun owners from training with those arms – something the Big Apple politicians require residents do in order to renew their so-called licenses.
Want to train at a gun facility in a town outside NYC? Until this city code was repealed, residents had to rent a gun at such a facility, because the city prohibited them from taking their own property beyond the city border.
Said lead attorney for the plaintiffs, former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement:
Text, history, and tradition all make clear that New York City's restrictive premises license and accompanying transport ban are unconstitutional. The city's restriction on transporting firearms to places where they may be lawfully possessed and its insistence in its revised regulations that any such transport be continuous and uninterrupted are premised on a view of the Second Amendment as a home-bound right, with any ability to venture beyond the curtilage with a firearm, even locked and unloaded, a matter of government grace. That view is inconsistent with text, history, tradition, and this Court's cases.
And Clement added another important insight:
And there is no historical analogue for the city’s prohibition in transporting firearms to places where they may be lawfully used. To the contrary, the second Congress required the militia (members) to take their own firearms from their homes to the training grounds.
But, mere seconds into his opening argument, Clement found himself unceremoniously interrupted by leftist Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who argued with him that the case was moot because the city repealed the code and the state passed a law allowing transport.
So what’s left of this case? The petitioners have gotten all the relief they sought. They can carry a gun to a second home. They can carry it to a fire—to practice at a range out of state (sic).
Which not only shows Ginsberg’s lack of cordiality and professionalism in that instance, it shows that she was not up on the legal, and rights-violating problems the NYC code inspired.
Clement noted some important points she seemed to miss. First, he enlightened her that if the state had not passed its law and the NYC prohibition were still extant, he and his clients would have sought a declaration that the city ban “is and always was unconstitutional”, which would have acted as a prophylactic against future governmental bodies trying to re-establish such a ban.
And Clement added:
But we would also be entitled to an injunction that did three things: one, prohibit future enforcement of the transport ban; second, prevent the city from taking past conduct in violation of the ban into account in licensing decisions; and, third, an injunction that (would) safeguard our right to transport meaningfully such that it wouldn’t be limited to continuous and uninterrupted transport.
And, despite further interruptions from both Ginsberg and Justice Sotomayor, those last two points are incredibly important. The city code was repealed concurrent with a state law allowing transport. But the new “rule” only allows “uninterrupted” and “continuous” transport in and out of NYC.
How is the government “granting” New York City gunowners permission to take their firearms outside the city consistent with the fundamental, untouchable, right to keep and bear arms? It’s a right. There should be no laws concerning it all. To make matters worse, the “permission” is contingent on owners transporting them “continuously” and “uninterrupted”. Need gas while carrying your gun on your way out of the city? Want to get coffee while you have your gun in the car? Good luck.
And, of course, that latter bizarre mandate regarding transport leaves NYC residents open to arbitrary police searches if they would like to make up an argument that you were not “continuously” conveying your firearm.
Sotomayor argued that new rule on “continuous” transport should be argued in a different case, but Clement noted that if the lower courts had allowed them their injunctive relief, the plaintiffs would have never agreed to any form of all-seeing-eye mandate that transport in and out of NYC be “continuous” and “uninterrupted.”
Moreover, Clements pointed out, those who have violated the original city prohibition against any transport outside of NYC can now be denied licenses or license renewal on the basis of those strikes.
Interruptions aside – after all, this phase is called “oral arguments” – the “New York State Rifle and Pistol Association” case is important for more than the tempestuous manner in which those two collectivist Justices behaved.
It is important for what it exposes about the depths to which collectivist politicians will go to crush the right to self-defense. And this is just one city, just one state, in a nation that has a supposed rule book expressly prohibiting any such laws.
Which brings us back to the idea of eternal vigilance.
The Constitution hasn’t stopped these perfidious political predators.
Only our vigilance will help us preserve our rights.