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Student protesters with March for Our Lives.
Student protesters with March for Our Lives.
Photo by Ian Witlen

Parkland Activists Ask SCOTUS to Leave Gun Policies to Local Lawmakers

El Paso. Dayton. Chicago. Gilroy. At a time when America is yet again reeling from the devastation of gun violence, the Parkland student activists are taking their fight to the highest court in the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court by the end of this year might hear its first Second Amendment case in almost a decade, and March for Our Lives filed a legal document Monday to advise the court on the impact of firearms on America's youth. It argues that the court should decline to set a nationwide firearm policy and instead leave the decision to local and state lawmakers, especially because the people likeliest to be affected by gun violence are reaching an age when they can vote for the first time. Nine students — including two survivors of the mass shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — shared stories of how gun violence has affected their lives.

"We wanted to make sure the court is aware of the real-world impact of gun violence that's endemic to American youth today," says Ira Feinberg, lead counsel and partner at Hogan Lovells, the law firm assisting March for Our Lives pro bono.

Young people are disproportionately affected by gun violence in America today. Americans between the ages of 15 and 29 accounted for 2.2 percent of deaths nationwide in 2016 but 31 percent of firearm deaths and nearly half of the nation's murders involving a firearm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three-fourths of Gen Z cite mass shootings as a primary source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association. The Gun Violence Archive cites 1,900 teens (ages 12 to 17) and 412 children (age 11 or younger) having been killed or injured in a gun-related incident so far in 2019.

The Supreme Court previously ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an American's right to have a handgun in their home for self-defense, a decision reiterated in 2010. But the court has declined to make a decision thus far on the sale or transportation of guns. If the court decides to move forward with the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. The City of New York, it could set a precedent for whether and how local governments can set gun-control regulations.

The court case stems from a group of gun owners challenging New York City's ban on traveling with a gun anywhere outside of the city's limits. Lower courts dismissed the challenge initially, paving the way for the case to reach the Supreme Court. It agreed to hear the case in January, but seven months later, New York City argued the case should be tossed out due to a recent New York law that allows licensed gun owners to transport their unloaded guns to other places where they are legally allowed to have them, such as a shooting range or a second home. It is not known yet whether or the Supreme Court will dismiss the case, so both parties are moving forward with filing their legal briefs.

If the Supreme Court chooses to hear the case, oral arguments will likely take place by the end of the year. The court's opinion would arrive sometime in spring 2020. 

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