Two major developments in Washington yesterday have turned the polemic of the American gun debate upside down. The first was a Supreme Court ruling to strike down a New York State law that restricted people from carrying guns in public. The second was the passing of a bipartisan Senate bill that was the most significant change to federal gun safety laws in almost three decades.
“Both of these things are very rare,” said Alex McCourt, a public health lawyer at the Johns Hopkins Gun Violence Center who studies the relationship between gun policy and gun violence. “The Supreme Court doesn’t hear Second Amendment cases very often, and Congress doesn’t pass important gun laws very often.”
McCourt warned that it would take time to fully appreciate the implications of yesterday’s events. But because the Senate bill is narrow – the result of a bipartisan compromise – he and other experts have predicted that the court’s move to expand gun rights is likely to have a larger impact on gun violence.
Today’s newsletter explains how yesterday’s events can change the status quo.
In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a century-old New York law that required people who wish to carry a concealed handgun in public to demonstrate the need to do so. Law, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote for most, prevented “law-abiding citizens with ordinary needs for self-defense from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.”
In essence, the decision states that the Constitution guarantees the right to carry firearms outside the home. The judgment will likely reverberate outside of New York.
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey have similar laws that they will have to rewrite. “We can expect the laws of other states to be challenged and ultimately the Supreme Court will clarify what is acceptable,” said our colleague Jonah Bromwich, who is in charge of criminal justice.
The problem of gun violence in America is already worse than in similar countries. Democrats and pundits fear the decision will increase the number of guns on the streets and make shootings more common.
The Senate passed a gun safety bill, and 15 Republicans joined the Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to hold a quick vote in the House of Representatives.
Remarkably, Congress is on the verge of passing a gun bill at all, and its efforts come just weeks after two horrific mass shootings—at a supermarket in Buffalo and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas—that helped legislators pass the bill. . .
“So many times over the past couple of decades, we have seen Congress stand still after a devastating shooting, even as lawmakers and lawyers vowed over and over again that things would be different,” Emily Cochrane, a congressional reporter for the Times, told us. “Finally things were different.”
But the legislation does not include the toughest gun control measures that supporters have been pushing for, reflecting the realities of an evenly divided Senate. One provision would make it harder for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase guns by requiring law enforcement to check underage and mental health records of purchasers. But this provision expires in 10 years, as the Republicans insisted.
Another provision would close the so-called boyfriend loophole by adding intimate partners to the list of domestic abusers who are banned from buying guns. But the ban will expire in a few years for first-time offenders who have kept a clean record, and Republicans have demanded it not be retroactive.
The third measure allocates $750 million to help states implement red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily confiscate guns from people who threaten themselves or others, and other crisis intervention programs. But the bill falls short of creating a federal red flag law.
Republicans blamed the mass shootings on mental health problems. The bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to train medical and school staff to respond to mental health crises and fund school safety programs and school counselors.
Passage of the Senate bill may only have a limited impact on gun violence in the short term. Research shows that closing the boyfriend loophole will reduce gun violence, McCourt said, but the impact of increased funding on mental health is less clear. Gun purchases often spike after mass shootings as Americans fear new restrictions, and recent congressional action could similarly spur sales. There is also no guarantee that states will actually pass the red flag laws that the bill encourages.
Some experts fear that yesterday’s court decision lays the groundwork for challenging even red flag laws. By most accounts, Thomas wrote that gun laws must be based on historical tradition in order to be constitutional.
But the decision is already forcing states on the left to consider additional gun control laws that match them. Katie Hochul, the Democratic Governor of New York, vowed yesterday to pass the new restrictions. “Gun laws are really being recast in real time in this country, which is really great,” Jonah said.
And the very conservative majority of the court looks somewhat split. The Thomas ruling supported an aggressive interpretation of gun rights. But two of his Republican-appointed colleagues—Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts—wrote in concurring opinion that the Second Amendment, “correctly construed,” allows for a variety of gun provisions, seemingly confirming the constitutionality of many state gun laws. weapons. laws. This makes it hard to see how far even this deeply conservative court is willing to go.
January 6 Hearings
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