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SCOTUS Overturns New York Gun Law

By Richard Dahl on June 23, 2022 4:35 PM

As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York law restricting the carrying of guns outside the home is unconstitutional.

New York is one of several states requiring individuals to show "proper cause" for a license to carry a handgun outside their homes. Writing for the majority in the 6-3 opinion, however, Justice Clarence Thomas said New York's law violates the Second Amendment.

This was the first time the court examined how the constitutional right to bear arms applies to guns in public places. It is also the first major Second Amendment case the court has taken since 2008, when justices ruled 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller, that individuals have a constitutional right to keep guns in the home for self-defense.

Since then, the court has turned down numerous appeals on Second Amendment cases while lower courts have generally upheld gun-control laws. In recent years, however, courts have split on the issue of carrying guns in public, setting the stage for the Supreme Court's decision to hear the New York Case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

Broad Second Amendment Interpretation

Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms is broad and must not be limited by officials' determinations of when and where people may carry guns. He did, however, say that guns may still be banned in certain "sensitive places," without identifying what they might be and who would designate them.

"We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need," he said.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the levels of gun violence in the U.S. — 300 mass shootings since January — demonstrate a need for governmental regulation of firearms.

"Many states have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds," Breyer wrote. "The Court today severely burdens States' efforts to do so."

He was joined by the two other liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Ruling's Implications

The court's action expanding gun rights stands in contrast to recent action by the U. S. Senate to implement new gun restrictions in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

The ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association marks a dramatic expansion of gun rights — perhaps more dramatic than Heller. Previously, judges evaluated gun cases by weighing how they fit with the history of the Second Amendment and determining whether the state has a reasonable justification for gun restrictions.

The new ruling appears to toss out the second part. States now will have a much harder time arguing that gun laws serve an important public interest.

It will also mean that other states with laws like New York's — California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey among them — will now have to tailor new laws governing people who want to carry guns in public.

While the ruling marks a broad expansion of gun rights, Thomas' comment about banning guns in "sensitive places" suggests that justices still believe in some kind of limits.

If you're looking for the next Second Amendment battleground, this could be it. And New York City isn't wasting any time preparing for it. Hours after the justices issued their ruling on June 23, Mayor Eric Adams issued a statement saying the city has been preparing for the expected Supreme Court decision and is poised to take action. "Those efforts," he said, "will include a comprehensive review of our approach to defining 'sensitive locations' where carrying a gun is banned."

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