By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Staying out of a raging national debate over guns, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to weigh in on whether gun owners have a constitutional right to carry handguns outside the home.
The court decided not to hear a challenge to a New York state law that requires those who want to carry a concealed handgun to show they have a special reason before they can get a license.
The gun owners challenging the law said that the right to bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not limited to the right to keep a handgun at home.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office defended the law, described the court's refusal to intervene as "a victory for families across New York who are rightly concerned about the scourge of gun violence that all too often plagues our communities."
In recent years, the Supreme Court has expanded gun rights, first by finding in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to bear arms and then ruling two years later in McDonald v. City of Chicago, that the earlier ruling applied to the states.
The court's decision not to hear the New York case does not mean it could not take up the same legal question at a later date.
"There are a few more cases bubbling up," said Adam Winkler, an expert on the Second Amendment at the UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles. "There is a possibility the Supreme Court will be confronted with this issue soon," he added.
One potential case concerns an Illinois ban on concealed weapons. The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in December that the law was unconstitutional.
Gun control is currently in the public eye following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, four months ago and President Barack Obama's decision to push for legislation to curb gun violence. The Senate begins debate on Monday on gun control legislation that would expand background checks for gun buyers.
Alan Gura, the Alexandria, Virginia-based lawyer who represents the gun owners, could not be reached for comment.
The case is Kachalsky v. Cacace, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-845.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Eric Beech)