In 2008, Thomas signed on to Justice Antonin Scalia’s landmark opinion holding that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to have firearms for self-defense. Supporters of gun rights believed that many gun regulations across the country would fall.
But lower courts, citing a part of the District of Columbia v. Heller decision that said that the “right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” allowed for some regulations.
In 2017 Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, dissented when the court declined to take up a case that might expand upon Heller. “I find it extremely improbable that the Framers understood the Second Amendment to protect little more than carrying a gun from the bedroom to the kitchen,” he wrote.
Thomas criticized what he called a “distressing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right.”
He noted at the time that the court had not heard argument in a Second Amendment case for seven years. “Since that time, we have heard argument in, for example, roughly 35 cases where the question presented turned on the meaning of the First Amendment and 25 cases that turned on the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. “
Last term, the court again passed over several Second Amendment cases, but on April 26, the justices — presumably because the conservatives thought they had five solid votes with the addition of Barrett — agreed to hear a case next term concerning a New York law that restricts an individual from carrying a concealed handgun in public.
“Few people realize how often Justice Thomas’ solo opinions eventually become majority opinions in the Supreme Court,” said David Kopel, a Second Amendment expert and professor at the University of Denver Law School. “For example, in the 1997 case Printz v. United States, Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion saying that some gun control laws might violate the Second Amendment , expressing his hope that the court would one day take a Second Amendment case.” Kopel noted that the court did just that eventually in Heller.