The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution protects the freedom to bear arms outside of the house.
The Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that restricts carrying a concealed handgun outside the home – an opinion that represents the most significant expansion of gun rights in a decade.
“Because the State of New York issues public-carry licences only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s 6-3 majority.
The decision alters the framework that lower courts will use in the future when analysing other gun restrictions, which may include the proposals currently before Congress if they become law.
“The majority’s expansion of what the Second Amendment protects will have monumental ramifications far beyond carrying firearms in public — on everything from age restrictions to assault weapons bans to limits on high-capacity magazines,”said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“We’re in for a whole new slew of litigation challenging any and every gun-control measure in light of the analysis in today’s ruling,”Vladeck said.
Critics argue that the ruling will stymie sensible solutions to gun violence.
Only about a half-dozen states have laws similar to New York’s – California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey – but those states contain some of the most densely populated cities in the country.
According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, twenty-five states generally allow people to carry concealed weapons in most public places without a permit, background check, or safety training.
In his opinion, Thomas stated that the government “may not simply posit that the regulation promotes and important interest,” but that judges must look to text and history when determining whether a law passes muster.
“Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s unqualified command,”Thomas said.
“We agree with Heller and McDonald, and now hold that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
President Joe Biden, who is working on gun control legislation with Congress, expressed “deep disappointment” with the decision.
“This ruling goes against both common sense and the Constitution, and it should deeply concern us all,” Biden said in a statement. “In the aftermath of the heinous attacks in Buffalo and Uvalde, as well as the daily acts of gun violence that do not make national headlines, we must do more – not less – as a society to protect our fellow Americans.”
Dissenters point to recent mass shootings in Supreme Court
In a dissent joined by the other liberals, Justice Stephen Breyer mentioned the recent spate of gun violence and said that the court should address it, citing several recent shootings, including the massacre at a Buffalo grocery store earlier this year. Breyer wrote that Thursday’s decision “heavily burdens states’ efforts” to reduce gun violence.
“The primary difference between the Court’s and my views is that I believe the Amendment allows states to address the serious problems posed by gun violence that I have just described,” Breyer wrote. “I am concerned that the Court’s interpretation ignores these significant dangers and leaves states unable to address them.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito pushed back:
And how does the opposition explain the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list occurred in Buffalo? Obviously, the New York law at issue in this case did not deter the perpetrator.” The conservative justices also dismissed concerns raised by supporters of New York’s gun law about how the law restricted carrying firearms into sensitive areas.
“It is true that people occasionally congregate in’sensitive places,’ and it is also true that law enforcement personnel are usually presumptively available in those locations.” “However, expanding the category of’sensitive places’ simply to all places of public congregation that are not isolated from law enforcement broadens the category far too much,” Thomas wrote.
The first major gun ruling in a decade
Since hearing two major Second Amendment cases in 2008 and 2010, the court has largely avoided the issue, but agreed to hear it after Justice Amy Coney Barrett arrived, highlighting her influence on the new conservative court.
The court held for the first time in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms at home for self-defense. Except for a two-year-later decision, the justices largely avoided the issue, infuriating gun-rights advocates and even some of the justices themselves.
Thomas and other conservatives have made it clear that they believe lower courts have ignored the Heller decision by upholding restrictions. “In this court, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right,” Thomas has previously stated.
The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, involved a New York statute that governs licences to carry concealed handguns in public for self-defense. It required a resident to obtain a permit to carry a concealed pistol or revolver and show that “just cause” exists for the permit. Residents must demonstrate a pressing need for the licence as well as a “special or unique danger to their life.”
Applicants who want to carry a handgun in public without restriction must demonstrate a “actual and articulable” self-defense need, rather than one that is “speculative or specious.”
A panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that New York’s law did not violate the Second Amendment.
The Biden administration backed New York, telling the Supreme Court in a brief that while the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, it is “not absolute.”
Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher told the justices that the law was “firmly rooted” in the history of the country.
Robert Nash, Brandon Koch, and the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association – an NRA affiliate – were the petitioners in the case. They were represented by Paul Clement, a George W. Bush-era solicitor general who argued that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, not just keep arms them.
Nash and Koch had passed the required background checks and obtained licences to carry guns for hunting and target practise, but they were unable to establish the special need for self-defense required by law in order to receive an unrestricted licence.
Clement contended that the law makes it nearly impossible for an ordinary person to obtain a licence because the “proper cause” standard is so stringent and is left to the licencing officer’s “broad discretion.”
“Good, even impeccable, moral character plus a simple desire to exercise a fundamental right is not sufficient,” Clement said. “Nor is living or working in a high-crime area.”
Nash, for example, asked to carry a handgun for self-defense following a series of robberies in his neighbourhood. He was denied, however, because he did not demonstrate a compelling need for self-defense. Koch sought a similar licence and was able to cite his participation in safety training courses. He, too, was turned down.
Gun rights advocates hailed the decision as a victory for Second Amendment rights and individuals’ right to self-defense, while gun safety advocates warned that it would lead to increased gun violence.
Several New York Democrats, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, condemned the decision, calling it “shocking” and “frightening in its scope of how they are setting back this nation and our ability to protect our citizens.” “Today, the Supreme Court takes a step back in our efforts to protect families and prevent gun violence. And it’s especially painful that this came down at this time, when we’re still dealing with families dealing with the aftermath of mass shootings — the loss of life, their beloved children and grandchildren, etc “Hochul stated to reporters on Thursday.
In response to the ruling, the governor stated that she is prepared to call the state legislature back into session. She said state legislators have already been notified and are looking into possible reconvening dates.
In a statement, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain, said the decision on guns will “put New Yorkers at further risk of gun violence,” and vowed specific action to mitigate the risks he says the decision will create.
According to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the ruling “significantly undermines public safety not only in New York City, but across the country.” Bragg says his office is “analysing” the ruling and working on gun safety legislation to “mitigate the damage done today.”
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association hailed the Supreme Court decision as a “watershed victory.”
“Today’s ruling is a watershed victory for good men and women all across America, and it is the culmination of a decades-long fight led by the NRA,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said in a statement. “The right to self-defense and the defence of your family and loved ones should not end at the front door.”
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