WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Constitution provides for the right to carry a firearm outside the home, making a landmark ruling on the meaning of the Second Amendment.
The 6-3 ruling was the court’s second major ruling on the right to “keep and bear arms.” In a landmark 2008 decision, the court said for the first time that the amendment protected a person’s right to own firearms, although the decision was limited to keeping firearms in the home for self-confidence. defend.
The court has now taken that decision to the next step after years of dodging the issue and applied the Second Amendment beyond the boundaries of homeowners’ ownership in a ruling that could affect the ability of state and local governments. to impose a wide variety of gun regulations. .
The ruling, which came as Congress advanced the most significant gun violence prevention legislation in nearly 30 years, involved a New York law that required showing a particular need to obtain a license to wear a handgun concealed in public. The state prohibits the open carrying of handguns, but it allows residents to apply for licenses to carry them concealed.
The law in question, however, stipulated that permits could only be granted to applicants who demonstrated a particular need – a requirement that went beyond a general desire for self-protection.
State gun owners sued, saying the requirement made it virtually impossible for ordinary citizens to obtain the necessary license. They argued that the law turned the Second Amendment into a limited privilege, not a constitutional right.
The court agreed with the challengers and struck down the increased requirement, but left the door open for states to impose limits on gun carrying.
“The constitutional right to bear arms in public in self-defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different set of rules from the other guarantees of the Bill of Rights,'” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion. “We know of no other constitutional right which an individual can exercise only after demonstrating to government officials a particular need.”
In the most expansive language of the ruling, Thomas said concern for public safety was not enough to justify new gun controls.
“The government must affirmatively prove that its gun regulations are part of the historical tradition that delineates the outer limits of the right to own and bear arms,” he wrote.
Gun law experts said part of the ruling sets the bar high for new gun restrictions.
In a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the ruling does not prevent states from imposing licensing requirements for carrying self-defense handguns, such as fingerprinting, background checks and mental health record checks.
The New York law was “problematic because it grants unrestricted discretion to licensing officials and allows licensing only to applicants who can demonstrate a special need outside of self-defense” – in effect, depriving citizens of the right to carry a weapon for self-protection, he wrote.
In a dissent joined by liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Stephen Breyer cited recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York and elsewhere, saying it is “often necessary” that the court takes gun violence into account when deciding the Second Amendment issues.
“The dangers posed by firearms can take many forms,” Breyer wrote. “Newspapers report mass shootings in an entertainment district in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3 dead and 11 injured); an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas (21 dead); a supermarket in Buffalo, New York (10 dead and 3 injured); a series of spas in Atlanta, Georgia (8 dead); a busy street in an entertainment district of Dayton, Ohio (9 dead and 17 injured); a nightclub in Orlando, Florida (50 dead and 53 injured); a church in Charleston, South Carolina (9 dead); a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (12 dead and 50 injured); an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut (26 dead); and many more.”
“And mass shootings are only part of the problem,” he added. “Easy access to guns can also make many other aspects of American life more dangerous. Consider, for example, the effect of guns on road rage.”
“The New York Legislature has considered the empirical evidence of gun violence and passed reasonable licensing legislation to regulate the concealed carry of handguns to keep New Yorkers safe,” he said. he concluded.
All states allow the carrying of concealed weapons in public, although many require state-issued permits. Thursday’s ruling casts doubt on laws similar to New York’s in several other states, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as the District of Columbia, which offer local authorities more leeway to refuse permit applications.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, adding that the decision “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should trouble us all deeply.”
The president said he was determined to do everything in his power to reduce gun violence and called on states to enact “common sense laws” to make communities safer.
“In the wake of the horrific attacks in Buffalo and Uvalde, as well as daily acts of gun violence that don’t make national headlines, we must do more as a society – not less – to protect our fellow Americans.” , did he declare.
New York Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul also responded to the ruling on Thursday, tweeting for the first time: “It is outrageous that at a time when we are looking at gun violence on a national level, the Court Supreme has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits who can carry concealed weapons.”
“In response to this decision, we are carefully considering our options, including calling a special session of the legislature. Just as we quickly passed national gun reform legislation, I will continue to do everything who is in my power to protect New Yorkers from gun violence,” she said.
At an event celebrating a new law aimed at strengthening school safety in the state, Hochul also called on Congress to strengthen federal gun laws by closing loopholes by raising the purchase age. a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.
State Attorney General Letitia James said she will work with Hochul and the legislature to change the licensing law to continue to protect New York residents.
“I want to reassure all New Yorkers that our robust gun protection laws remain intact, and we will work with our partners in government to further strengthen them,” James said.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the decision “has made each of us less safe from gun violence” and pledged to work to “mitigate the damage” of the decision.
Adams and New York Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell stressed that the laws remain unchanged in New York for now, as the Supreme Court’s decision sent the case to a lower court for implementation. But they both warned the decision would likely lead to more guns on the streets and change the way police and other public safety authorities work in cities.
“For a city like this – densely populated – this decision is simply not rooted in reality,” he said. “It’s a city and a country where people have AK-47 assault rifles, multiple shots. I don’t know what the Supreme Court was thinking.