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School shootings and the U.S. Supreme Court

In case you missed it, there was a school shooting in Salisbury yesterday.

According to this report, 16-year-old Shaleek Williams was shot outside the Salisbury High School gym after school in the midst of a fight between two groups.  A 17-year-old has been arrested in connection with the incident, and another individual is being sought by police.

Didn’t know about it? Well, that’s not hard to believe since, outside the areas neighboring Salisbury, stories about the shooting were buried, if reported at all — a fact that speaks directly to our growing indifference to gun violence in our schools.

By the end of January, there had been 11 school shootings over 19 school days, according to Abby Ohlheiser at The Wire, who wondered if January became the “month when gun violence became a matter of routine in America’s schools.”  That number already threatens to eclipse the 28 total school shootings which occurred over the entire year after the Newtown massacre, “the year our nation had supposedly had enough and was finally going to do something about gun violence.”

As Ohlheiser’s report goes on to explain, most of these shootings were at the hands of other students or student-aged assailants.

Against that backdrop, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide on Feb. 21 whether it will hear appeals in three gun-rights cases, two of which involve laws restricting gun ownership by those under the age of 21.

As Lyle Denniston at Scotusblog reports, the NRA is pushing the court not only to take the cases but also to address the larger question of whether there exists a “right to bear arms” in public places  – a question the court has repeatedly avoided since upholding in 2008 a “right to keep arms” at home, at least for self-defense.

Both of the new cases deal with laws . . . that restrict access to handguns for young adults eighteen, nineteen, and twenty years old.   In separate rulings, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld both laws at issue, and in the process raised serious doubts about whether the Second Amendment even applies to gun rights claims of those who are under the age of twenty-one but still regarded as adults.  But the two NRA petitions take different approaches to the issue of gun rights in public places.

The petition in the federal case is a sweeping claim that lower federal courts have been engaging in “massive resistance” to the Court’s landmark decisions on Second Amendment rights. . . .  The petition makes that point in urging the Court to make it clear to lower courts that its 2008 decision recognized a fundamental right, one that can be curbed only for the most compelling government reasons. The government has countered that the beyond-the-home question is not even at issue in that case, because the federal law involved is a narrowly focused issue on minors’ desire to buy guns from licensed federal dealers.

The petition in the state case, however, is a straightforward plea to extend the Second Amendment beyond the home, because it involves a state law that bars almost all youths ages eighteen through twenty from carrying a handgun in public.  Texas requires a license to carry a gun in public, but those in that age group are not eligible to get such a license.  The petition in that case said that the Supreme Court in 2008 settled that the “right to keep arms” applies within the home, so now, it argued, it is time for the Court to decide whether the “right to bear arms” means the right to carry them when one leaves home.

As Denniston notes, if the Court grants review of any of the questions, it could take on “the broader issues of gun rights outside the home, or gun rights for young adults, or examine only the narrow question of who has a legal right to go to court to challenge gun control laws.”

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