The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that places restrictions on carrying a concealed handgun outside the home — an opinion marking the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade.
“Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s 6-3 majority.
The opinion changes the framework that lower courts will use going forward as they analyze other gun restrictions, which could include the proposals currently before Congress if they eventually become law.
Critics say the ruling will impair sensible solutions they think can curb gun violence.
Only about a half dozen states have similar laws to New York’s — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey — have similar regulations, but those states are comprised of some of the most densely populated cities in the country.
Twenty-five states generally allow people to carry concealed weapons in most public spaces without any permit, background check or safety training, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Dissents cite recent mass shootings
“The primary difference between the Court’s view and mine is that I believe the Amendment allows States to take account of the serious problems posed by gun violence that I have just described,” Breyer wrote. “I fear that the Court’s interpretation ignores these significant dangers and leaves States without the ability to address them.”
Justice Samuel Alito, in a concurring opinion, pushed back: “And how does the dissent account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo? The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator.”
The conservative justices also dismissed concerns defenders of New York’s gun law raised about how the law restricted the carrying of firearms into sensitive places.
“It is true that people sometimes congregate in ‘sensitive places,’ and it is likewise true that law enforcement professionals are usually presumptively available in those locations. But expanding the category of ‘sensitive places’ simply to all places of public congregation that are not isolated from law enforcement defines the category of ‘sensitive places’ far too broadly,” Thomas wrote.
First major ruling on guns in a decade
Since handing down two major Second Amendment cases in 2008 and 2010, the court has largely dodged the issue but agreed to take up the dispute after Justice Amy Coney Barrett arrived, highlighting her impact on the new conservative court.
In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms at home for self-defense. Except for a follow-up decision two years later, the justices largely stayed away from the issue infuriating gun rights advocates and even some of the justices themselves.
Thomas and other conservatives have made clear they believe lower courts have been thumbing their noses at the Heller decision by upholding restrictions. “The Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court,” Thomas has previously said.