Yesterday, two major developments in Washington shook up the terrain of the American firearms debate. The first was a Supreme Court ruling striking down a New York state law that restricted people’s ability to carry guns in public. The second was the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that would become the most significant change to federal gun safety laws in nearly three decades.
“Those two things are very rare,” said Alex McCourt, a public health attorney at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, who studies the relationship between gun policy and gun violence. “The Supreme Court doesn’t deal with Second Amendment cases very often, and Congress doesn’t pass major gun laws very often.”
McCourt warned it would take time to fully see the effects of yesterday’s events. But because the Senate bill is narrow — the result of a bipartisan compromise — he and other experts predicted that the court’s decision to expand gun rights would likely have a more significant effect on the armed violence.
Today’s bulletin explains how yesterday’s developments can change the status quo.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a century-old New York law that required people who wanted to carry a concealed handgun in public to demonstrate they needed it. The law, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, prevented “law-abiding citizens with ordinary needs of self-defense from exercising their right to hold and bear arms in public.”
The decision, in effect, says that the Constitution guarantees the right to carry a firearm outside the home. The decision will likely reverberate beyond New York.
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey have similar laws that they will be forced to rewrite. “We can expect other states’ laws to be challenged and possibly the Supreme Court to clarify what is permitted,” said our colleague Jonah Bromwich, who covers criminal justice.
The problem of gun violence in the United States is already worse than that of similar countries. Democrats and experts fear the ruling will increase the number of guns on the streets and make shootings more common.
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The Senate passed the gun safety bill, with 15 Republicans joining Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised a quick vote in the House.
The fact that Congress is about to pass a gun bill is notable, and its efforts come just weeks after two horrific mass shootings – at a supermarket in Buffalo and at an elementary school in Uvalde , Texas — prompted lawmakers to pursue the legislation.
“So many times over the past two decades, we’ve seen Congress fail to act after a devastating shooting, even when lawmakers and lawyers swore again and again it would be different,” Emily Cochrane, a reporter at the Times Congress. “It was ultimately different.”
But the legislation does not include the tougher gun control measures advocates have been seeking, reflecting the realities of an evenly divided Senate. A provision would make it harder for people under 21 to buy a gun by requiring law enforcement to check buyers’ juvenile and mental health records. But that provision would expire after 10 years, a caveat Republicans have insisted on.
Another provision would end the so-called boyfriend loophole, adding intimate partners to the list of domestic abusers who are barred from buying a gun. But the ban would expire after a few years for first-time offenders who had clean criminal records, and Republicans have demanded it not be retroactive.
A third measure sets aside $750 million to help states implement Red Flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who threaten themselves or others, and other enforcement programs. crisis intervention. But the bill stops short of creating a federal red flag law.
Republicans have blamed the mass shootings on mental health issues. The bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to train medical workers and school staff to respond to mental health crises and funding for school safety programs and school resource officers.
Passage of the Senate bill may have only a limited impact on gun violence in the short term. Studies suggest closing the boyfriend loophole would reduce gun violence, McCourt said, but the effect of increased funding for mental health is less certain. Gun purchases often spike after mass shootings as Americans fear further restrictions, and the latest congressional action could also boost sales. There is also no guarantee that states will actually pass the red flag laws the bill encourages.
Some experts fear yesterday’s court ruling could set the stage for challenging even the red flag laws. In his majority opinion, Thomas wrote that gun laws must be rooted in historical tradition to be constitutional.
But the ruling is already pushing leftist states to consider additional gun control laws that comply with it. Kathy Hochul, the Democratic Governor of New York, yesterday promised to enact new restrictions. “Gun laws are really being remade in real time in this country in a really remarkable way,” Jonah said.
And the conservative majority on the court itself appears somewhat divided. Thomas’ ruling endorsed an aggressive reading of gun rights. But two of his Republican appointees – Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts, the Chief Justice – wrote in a concurring opinion that the Second Amendment, “correctly interpreted”, allows for a variety of gun regulations, appearing to endorse the constitutionality of many state weapons. laws. So it’s hard to know how far even this deeply conservative court is willing to go.
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