WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up three challenges to a federal ban on gun ownership for people convicted of nonviolent crimes, surprising Second Amendment advocates who hoped the court would chip away at the restriction.
By not taking the appeals, the nation’s highest court let stand a series of lower court rulings that prohibited people convicted of driving under the influence, making false statements on tax returns and selling counterfeit cassette tapes from owning a gun.
The decisions Monday, which were handed down without explanation, are the latest in a series of instances in which the Supreme Court has skirted Second Amendment questions. The high court last issued major guns rights rulings in 2008 and 2010, cases that struck down handgun restrictions in the District of Columbia and Chicago.
But the court has signaled in recent years that it is interested in revisiting the issue. Four conservative justices have expressed a desire to address outstanding Second Amendment questions in recent dissents. Four justices are required to take a case, but five are needed to write a majority opinion on any issue.
The court was considering the latest gun cases amid a spate of recent mass shootings. Eight people were killed in a series of shootings March 16 at Atlanta-area spas. Ten people were killed days later in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. Eight people were killed and several were injured when a gunman opened fire on workers at FedEx facility in Indianapolis last week.
In one of the cases before the court, a Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2005 challenged the ban on purchasing or owning a gun. In another, a Pennsylvania woman who pleaded guilty to making a false statement on her tax returns sued over the ban. In a third, a man who pleaded guilty to counterfeiting and smuggling cassettes in the 1980s challenged the firearms ban.
The decisions Monday don’t preclude the court from taking a similar case in the future.
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Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the court, had given Second Amendment groups reason for optimism on the issue. In 2019, as a judge on the federal appeals court in Chicago, Barrett dissented from an opinion upholding the law that bans convicted felons from owning a gun.
The Wisconsin man who challenged the law in that case, Rickey Kanter, had pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud. Barrett wrote in her dissent that the ban went too far when applied to someone who had not been convicted of a violent crime.
The Supreme Court took no action Monday on another pending Second Amendment question: whether the Constitution guarantees the right to carry a gun in public places. That challenge involves two New York State residents who sought a license to carry guns outside their home but were denied because they didn’t meet the state’s requirement of having a “special need for self protection.”
The court is expected to decide whether to take or reject that case later this year.