As the court’s docket shows, the justices first discussed the cert petition at a private conference in March, before debating it again at two additional conferences in April. In each conference, however, the conservative justices failed to produce the four votes needed to grant review. (None of the liberal justices are likely to have voted to grant the case because they almost certainly agreed with the lower court ruling upholding New York’s law).
Then, at another conference held at the end of April, the justices voted to grant the case.
What changed? The record indicates just one thing: The court rewrote the question presented, limiting it to ask “whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.”
The rewritten question focuses the court’s review first to the matter of concealed-carry, rather than open-carry, licenses — a sensible move because that is the type of license for which the petitioners originally applied.
The second change is more important. Rather than asking about the right of all law-abiding citizens to carry guns in public, the court’s rewritten question focuses on just the original two petitioners — individuals who were denied special need licenses by New York. In doing so, the justices have made clear that the specific, factual circumstances surrounding the applications will be crucial to their analysis. (Otherwise, the original question presented would have sufficed.)
What, then, are the specifics of the applications? One of the petitioners, Robert Nash, explained in his application that he needed a concealed-carry license because of a “recent string of robberies in the area” around his home, including a robbery that occurred on his street just days before he filed for the license. Yet the New York licensing authority still rejected his application. In contrast, the other petitioner, Brandon Koch, openly admitted in his application that he did “not face any special or unique danger to his life.”
By training the question presented on these facts, the court hints at an outcome that both sides in the gun debate should be able to live with.
State laws that condition the right to public carry on a demonstrated need for self-defense could be constitutional, in keeping with a lengthy historical tradition of similar laws. So New York would be free to deny licenses to applicants like Koch who lack a special need, thus substantially reducing the number of guns on the streets. But states may not utilize a special need requirement as a de facto ban on all public carry. Doing so would infringe the 2nd Amendment right of those who face real and particularized dangers — such as Nash.