The US Supreme Court stepped back into the heated debate over gun rights on Monday, agreeing to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to New York state's restrictions on people carrying concealed handguns in public.
The justices will take up an appeal by two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA, an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, of a lower court ruling throwing out their challenge to the restrictions on concealed handguns outside the home.
Lower courts rejected the argument made by the plaintiffs that the restrictions violated the US Constitution's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The lawsuit sought an unfettered right to carry concealed handguns in public.
The case could lead to the most consequential ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment in more than a decade.
A state firearms licensing officer had granted the two men "concealed carry" permits but restricted them to hunting and target practice, prompting the legal challenge.
The court's 6-3 conservative majority is seen as sympathetic to an expansive view of Second Amendment rights.
The debate over gun control in the United States has intensified in the wake of a spate of recent mass shootings, including one at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis on April 15 in which a gunman killed eight employees and then himself, and two in March in less than a week - one in Georgia and the other in Colorado - that left a total of 18 people dead.
The Supreme Court in a landmark 2008 ruling recognized for the first time an individual's right to keep guns at home for self-defense, and in 2010 applied that right to the states. The plaintiffs in the New York case asked for that right to be extended beyond the home.
A ruling invalidating New York's law could imperil similar laws on the books in other states setting various criteria for a concealed-carry license. Seven other states and the District of Columbia impose restrictions that give authorities more discretion to deny concealed firearm permits.
A ruling against New York could also force lower courts to cast a skeptical eye on new or existing gun control laws. Gun control advocates are concerned that the conservative justices could create a standard for gun control that could threaten measures that states already have implemented such as expanded criminal background checks for gun buyers and "red flag" laws targeting the firearms of people deemed dangerous by the courts.
In the past decade, US Republicans and gun rights advocates have pressed the justices to take up a new case to further extend gun rights. The court has moved rightward during that time period with the addition of three justices appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump.
Last year, the Supreme Court sidestepped a major gun rights ruling in another NRA-supported challenge to a New York City restriction on transporting firearms outside the home, because the city had rolled back the regulation.