WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would not decide what would have been its first decision on the scope of the Second Amendment in almost a decade, finding that New York City’s repeal of the gun control regulation under challenge had made the matter moot.
The city did so, and state lawmakers later enacted a law that seemed to make it impossible for city officials to change their minds.
The regulation, which appeared to be unique in the nation, had allowed residents with so-called premises licenses to take their guns to one of seven shooting ranges in the city. But it prohibited them from taking their guns to second homes and shooting ranges outside the city, even when the guns were unloaded and locked in containers separate from ammunition.
The Supreme Court seemed unlikely to uphold the law, and its decision in the case would have given it an opportunity to elaborate on the scope of Second Amendment rights.
Exactly what the Second Amendment protects has been in dispute ever since, partly because Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller decision included an important limiting passage that was almost certainly the price of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s fifth and deciding vote in the case.
“Nothing in our opinion,” Justice Scalia wrote, “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Since the Heller decision, lower courts have largely upheld state and local gun control laws. The Supreme Court, in turn, refused to hear appeals from those decisions. Justice Kennedy’s retirement last year, and his replacement by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, appears to have changed the court’s receptivity to Second Amendment cases.
The new case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, No. 18-280, was brought by the association and three city residents. The challengers had lost in Federal District Court in Manhattan and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where a unanimous three-judge panel had ruled that the ordinance passed constitutional muster under the Heller decision.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented in the decision that the case was moot. The majority, in an unsigned opinion, left open the possibility that a lower court could yet revive the case.