WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Thursday repealed New York law this placed severe restrictions on the carrying of guns outside the home, stating that it was contrary to the Second Amendment.
This decision was only the court’s second major statement on the scope of the individual constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and the first statement on how that right extends to firearms in public places. The decision has far-reaching implications, especially in cities that have tried to crack down on gun crime by imposing restrictions on who can carry them.
The decision came after a spate of mass shootings intensified the gun control debate. The Senate is close to passing a bipartisan gun safety package, an important step towards breaking out of years of congressional stagnation.
The vote was 6 to 3, with three liberal members of the court disagreeing.
New York City law requires people seeking a license to carry a handgun outside the home to show “good cause”. California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have similar laws.
Two men who were denied licenses they applied for in New York sued, saying “the state makes it almost impossible for the average law-abiding citizen to get a license.”
The men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, were allowed to carry guns for target shooting and hunting away from populated areas, government officials told the Supreme Court, and Mr. Koch was allowed to carry guns to and from work.
“Nash and Koch did not get unrestricted licenses because neither demonstrated the non-speculative need to carry a pistol just about anywhere in public,” — Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General of New York, told the judges in short.
In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court recognized the right of every person to keep a gun at home for the purpose of self-defense. Since then, little has been said about the scope of rights under the Second Amendment.
Indeed, the court over the years has rejected countless Second Amendment appeals. Meanwhile, lower courts generally upheld gun control laws.
But they are divided over the issue raised by the New York case: whether states can ban law-abiding citizens from carrying guns outside their homes in self-defense unless they can convince the authorities that they have a good reason to do so.
For example, last year the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco upheld the law of Hawaii by a 7-to-4 vote.
“Our survey of more than 700 years of English and American legal history uncovers a powerful theme: the government has the right to regulate the use of guns in public places.” Judge Jay S. Bybeenominated by President George W. Bush wrote for the majority.
The Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago, on the other hand, repealed Illinois state law which prohibited the carrying of weapons in public places. And a federal appeals court in Washington repealed restrictive law of the District of Columbia which, he said, amounted to “a complete ban on the right of most D.C. residents to bear arms.”
The court’s reluctance to hear Second Amendment cases has changed as its composition has shifted to the right in recent years. Three President Donald J. Trump appointees — Judges Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — have all expressed support for gun rights.
And the most conservative members of the Supreme Court have long regretted the court’s reluctance to examine the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment.
In 2017, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote that he found “a disturbing trend: treating the Second Amendment as an unfavorable right.”
“For those of us who work in marble halls, constantly guarded by a vigilant and dedicated police force, Second Amendment guarantees may seem outdated and redundant.” Judge Thomas wrote. “But the creators made a clear choice: they left all Americans the right to bear arms for self-defense.”
In 2019, shortly after Judge Kavanaugh’s arrival, the court agreed to hear a complaint about New York’s gun law, which allowed residents to keep guns in their homes to take to one of the city’s seven shooting ranges. But he forbade them to take their guns to second homes and shooting ranges out of town, even when the guns were unloaded and locked in containers separate from the ammunition.
After the court granted the revision, the city overturned the order, and the court eventually closed the case as moot. In a concurring opinion, Judge Cavanaugh wrote that he was concerned that the lower courts were not sensitive enough to Second Amendment rights. “The court should consider this issue in the near future,” he wrote.
However, in June, the court rejected about 10 Second Amendment appeals. Since revision requires only four votes, there is good reason to believe that the conservative wing of the court, which at the time consisted of five members, was not confident that it could secure the vote of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
The arrival of Judge Barrett changed that calculation. Six months after she joined the court, he agreed to hear New York’s case, New York State Riflemen and Pistols Association v. Bruen, no. 20-843.