Supreme Court on Thursday repealed gun laws in New York adopted over a century ago, which imposes restrictions on carrying a concealed handgun outside the home, a view that marks the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade.
“Because New York State will only issue public transportation licenses if the applicant demonstrates a particular need for self-defence, we conclude that the state’s licensing regime violates the Constitution,” Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in favor of the court, which scored 6 votes against 3.
This opinion changes the structure that lower courts will use in the future when they review other gun restrictions, which could include proposals currently before Congress if they eventually become law.
“Expanding by most what the Second Amendment protects will have monumental implications that go far beyond the carrying of firearms in public places — from age restrictions to assault weapon bans and restrictions on high-capacity magazines,” said Steve Wladek, a Supreme Court analyst. CNN and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“We are facing a whole series of new lawsuits challenging any and every gun control measure in the light of the analysis contained in today’s ruling,” Vladek said.
Critics say the decision will thwart smart decisions that they believe can curb gun violence.
Only about half a dozen states have laws similar to those of New York—California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey—have similar rules, but these states are made up of some of the most populous cities in the country.
25 states generally allow concealed carry in most public places without any permit, background checks, or safety training. Giffords Law Center for Gun Violence Prevention.
In his view, Thomas said that going forward, the government “could not just argue that the ordinance advances important interests,” instead saying that judges should look to text and history when deciding whether a law passes scrutiny.
“Only if the law on firearms is consistent with the historical tradition of this country, the court can conclude that the person’s behavior is beyond the unconditional order of the Second Amendment,” Thomas said.
Dissenters cite recent mass shootings
In a sign of dissent, joined by other liberals, Judge Steven Breyer noted gun violence and said the court listed several recent shootings, including the Buffalo grocery store massacre earlier this year. Thursday’s ruling “severely burdens states’ efforts” to curb gun violence, Breyer wrote.
“The main difference between the Court’s view and mine is that I believe the amendment allows states to take into account the serious problems posed by gun violence that I have just described,” Breyer wrote. “I fear that the Court’s interpretation ignores these serious dangers and leaves States without the opportunity to address them.”
Judge Samuel Alito, in a concurring opinion, objected: “And how does dissent explain the fact that one of the mass shootings at the top of his list took place in Buffalo? The New York state law in question in this case clearly did not stop this perpetrator.”
Conservative judges also dismissed New York gun law advocates’ concerns that the law would restrict the carrying of firearms in high-profile areas.
“It is true that people sometimes congregate in sensitive places, and it is also true that law enforcement officers are usually supposedly available in these places. But expanding the category of “sensitive places” simply to all places of public congestion that are not isolated from law enforcement defines the category of “sensitive places” too broadly,” Thomas wrote.
First major gun ruling in a decade
After referring two major Second Amendment cases in 2008 and 2010, the court largely evaded the issue, but agreed to hear the dispute after the arrival of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, highlighting her impact on the new conservative court.
In DC v. Heller in 2008, the court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep and bear arms in the home in self-defense. With the exception of a subsequent ruling two years later, the judges have largely stayed away from the issue, infuriating gun rights advocates and even some judges.
Thomas and other conservatives have made it clear that they believe the lower courts are unhappy with Heller’s decision, upholding the restrictions. “The Second Amendment is an unapproved right in this court,” Thomas said earlier.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen was concerned with a New York law governing the issuance of licenses for the concealed carry of handguns in public places for the purpose of self-defense. The resident was required to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun or revolver and to illustrate having a “good cause” for obtaining a permit. Residents must show that they are in dire need of a license and that they face “special or unique danger to their lives.”
The law requires applicants who wish to carry a handgun in public without restrictions to demonstrate a “real and articulated” need for self-defense, and not a “speculative or contrived” one.
A panel of judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the New York law did not violate the Second Amendment.
The Biden administration supported New York and succinctly told the Supreme Court that while the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep and bear arms, that right “is not absolute.”
Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher told judges that the law is “firmly based” on the country’s history.
The plaintiffs in the case were Robert Nash, Brandon Koch, and the New York State Riflemen and Pistols Association, an affiliate of the NRA. They were represented by Paul Clement, the Solicitor General under George W. Bush, who argued that the Second Amendment guaranteed the right not just to “keep a gun” but to bear it.
Nash and Koch passed the required background checks and obtained licenses to carry weapons for hunting and target shooting, but they were unable to establish the special need for self-defense required by law to obtain an unrestricted license.
Clement argued that the law makes it nearly impossible for the average person to obtain a license because the “good cause” standard is so demanding and left to the “wide discretion” of the licensing officer.
“Good, even impeccable moral character, plus a simple desire to exercise a fundamental right,” said Clement, “is not enough.” “And also doesn’t live or work in a high-crime area.”
Nash, for example, asked to carry a pistol for self-defense after a string of robberies in his area. But he was refused, because he did not show a special need for self-defense. Koch wanted a similar license, and he was able to cite his experience in safety training courses. He was also refused.
This story breaks and will be updated.
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