WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider any new cases on gun rights, including the ability of 18- to 20-year-olds to buy guns.
The decision, however, does not preclude the court eventually agreeing to consider the next big legal issue in the national debate over guns: whether the right to keep a gun at home for self-defense extends to public places.
In fact, a federal appeals court panel's divided ruling this month in a California case makes it more likely that the question of guns outside the home will be heading to the high court soon.
Ever since Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a divided court in 2008 that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to possess guns at home, the question of public places has been looming. Many states impose restrictions, such as requiring a demonstrated need to carry a gun, whether concealed or in plain sight. Most lower courts have upheld those restrictions.
To date, the biggest split from that trend involved an Illinois law that was much more restrictive than those in other states. Its ban on carrying concealed weapons in nearly all circumstances was struck down by a 7th Circuit appeals court panel. Rather than appealing to the Supreme Court, however, the state amended the law to allow for public possession, with restrictions.
The question for the court to answer, eventually, is whether such restrictions are constitutional. The high court has batted down several petitions in recent years from firearms groups rather than answer that question. After the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the issue became more politically charged.
A decision earlier this month by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals changes the equation. The majority opinion struck down San Diego County's restrictions as a violation of Second Amendment rights. It may be reviewed by the full appeals court, but if the ruling holds, it would represent a clear split with other appeals court rulings that have upheld restrictions.
"The Second Amendment does require that the states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home," the panel said. "States may not destroy the right to bear arms in public under the guise of regulating it."
Soon, however, the court will consider a petition that presents the issue squarely. Opponents of New Jersey's restrictions on carrying guns in public have asked the justices to overrule a 3rd Circuit appeals court ruling in Drake v. Jerejian that upheld the state law. Now that the 9th Circuit has ruled the other way, either case could provide a Supreme Court showdown.
The petitions denied Monday focused on gun rights for 18- to 20-year-olds and challenges to laws that restrict interstate gun transfers.