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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissenting opinion on Thursday that the conservative majority is “weighing heavily” on state laws aimed at curbing violence, as the court overturned restrictions on the wearing of Concealed Firearms in New York.
“Many states have attempted to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who can purchase, carry, or use firearms of various types,” he said. writes Breyer. “Today, the Court weighs heavily on States’ efforts to achieve this.
Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer in his dissent in the 6-3 case. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsich, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas made up the majority.
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Thomas delivered the court’s majority opinion, arguing that “the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.” New York law required an applicant to show “just cause” for applying for a license, but the majority struck it down.
“Because New York State only issues public transportation licenses when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the state’s licensing regime violates the Constitution,” Thomas wrote.
However, Breyer said the United States deals with a massive amount of gun crime and that it is up to state legislatures to address this problem, even though there are many legal uses of guns.
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“The issue before us is the extent to which the Second Amendment prevents elected Democratic officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence,” he said. “And yet the Court today purports to answer that question without discussing the nature or seriousness of that problem.”
“Balancing … lawful uses against the dangers of firearms is primarily the responsibility of elected bodies, such as legislatures,” Breyer added. “It requires the consideration of facts, statistics, expert opinions, predictive judgments, relevant values and a host of other circumstances, which together make decisions about how, when and where to regulate the firearms more appropriately legislative work.”
Breyer, in his view, is also critical of a history-based approach taken by the majority and argues that “legal restrictions on the public carriage of firearms” are not uncommon. Breyer also says the unique circumstances in big cities like New York require lawmakers to consider where it is or isn’t practical to allow guns.
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“Historical examples of regulations similar to New York’s licensing system are legion,” Breyer said. “Not all of these laws were identical to those of New York, but that is unavoidable in an analysis that demands the examination of seven centuries of history. At a minimum, the laws I recounted resembled the law of New York, similarly restricting the right to bear arms in public, and serving much the same purposes.”
Even under the 2008 Heller case that gives individuals the right to own firearms, Breyer said, there may be legitimate government regulations on that right.
“We are bound by Heller insofar as Heller interpreted the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to own a firearm for self-defense,” Breyer said. “But Heller recognized that this right was not unlimited and could be subject to government regulation.”
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The case, which will likely be seen as a historic victory for gun rights advocates, comes as Congress is likely to pass a bipartisan gun safety bill in the coming days.
The effort came in the wake of several mass shootings, including one in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.