WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court may weigh in this week on gun control, an issue smoldering again following the June 12 Orlando massacre, with the justices due to decide whether to hear a challenge by gun rights advocates to assault weapon bans in two states.
The Connecticut and New York laws prohibit semiautomatic weapons like the one used by the gunman who fatally shot 49 people at a gay night club in Orlando in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The Supreme Court will announce as soon as Monday whether it will hear the challenge brought by gun rights groups and individual firearms owners asserting that the laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms.
The court has not decided a major gun case since 2010.
If they take up the matter, the justices would hear arguments in their next term, which begins in October. A decision not to hear the challenge would leave in place lower-court rulings upholding the laws.
The court’s action in another recent appeal indicated it may be disinclined to take up the matter. The justices in December opted not to hear a challenge to a Highland Park, Illinois ordinance banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
A national assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Congressional Republicans, backed by the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobby, beat back efforts to restore it. Some states and municipalities have enacted their own bans.
In their petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, those challenging the Connecticut law said the type of weapons banned by the state are used in self-defense, hunting and recreational shooting.
Connecticut said its law targets firearms disproportionately used in gun crime, “particularly the most heinous forms of gun violence.” It said people in Connecticut still can legally own more than 1,000 types of handguns, rifles and shotguns.
There is a longstanding legal debate over the scope of Second Amendment rights.
In the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual’s right to bear arms, but the ruling applied only to firearms kept in the home for self-defense. That ruling did not involve a state law, applying only to federal regulations.
Two years later, in the case McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court held that the Heller ruling covered individual gun rights in states.