The US Supreme Court has struck down a century-old New York law requiring handgun owners to show “proper cause” in order to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon, dealing a blow to state-level efforts to combat the proliferation of firearms and potentially expanding the scope of Second Amendment protections.
The law requires handgun owners to show “proper cause,” including self-defense reasons, rather than simply carry a concealed weapon for the protection of property or other reasonings.
In the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc v Bruen, the court was asked to consider whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit firearm owners from carrying handguns outside their homes for self-defense – a challenge that could upend precedents on concealed-carry restrictions and rules about how and where Americans can carry guns across the US.
The court’s conservative majority ruled 6-3 in favour of the organisation in an opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas.
A decision in the case follows several deadly massacres, including the racist murders of 10 Black people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that have revived debates in state legislatures and in Congress and the White House about gun control and repeat failures to address waves of mass shootings and gun violence in the US.
Oral arguments heard from lawyers for the gun-rights advocacy group and two men whose applications for concealed-carry licenses were rejected, arguing that the Second Amendment protects a right to carry a gun for self-defense that extends beyond the home.
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have similar “proper cause” requirements.
In his dissenting opinion joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen Breyer addressed the nation’s epidemic of gun violence and offered an extensive list of mass shootings in recent years.
“Since the start of this year alone … there have already been 277 reported mass shootings – an average of more than one per day,” he wrote.
He emphasised the prevalence of guns in both domestic disputes, noting a study that “found that a woman is five times more likely to be killed by an abusive partner if that partner has access to a gun”, and how “the consequences of gun violence are borne disproportionately by communities of color, and Black communities.”
“Many states have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds,” he wrote. “The court today severely burdens states’ efforts to do so.”
He argued that it is both “constitutionally proper” and “necessary” for courts to consider the “serious dangers and consequences of gun violence” that compels states to regulate firearms.
Justice Breyer condemned the decision to strike down New York’s law based only on the arguments from the plaintiffs in the case “without first allowing for the development of an evidentiary record and without considering the state’s compelling interest in preventing gun violence.”
Justice Samuel Alito criticised Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion, saying that the New York law “did not stop that perpetrator” in Buffalo. He also condemned the dissenting opinion for including statistics about the use of guns in suicide and domestic disputes, claimg they are “not relevant” to the issue.
In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, 54 per cent of all gun-related deaths in the US were suicides (24,292), while 43 per cent were murders (19,384), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement it is “outrageous that at a moment of national reckoning on gun violence, the Supreme Court has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons.”
She said her office could consider convening a special legislative session to expand gun-control legislation in the state.
“I will continue to do everything in my power to keep New Yorkers safe from gun violence,” she said.
New York Congressman Ritchie Torres said the decision “will deepen the crisis of gun violence” in New York and elsewhere.
“Striking down the proper cause requirement, as [the Supreme Court] has done, means allowing the average person a right to carry a gun in public, even in a city as densely populated as [as New York City],” he said.
“Life as we know it in NYC could be radically reshaped – for the worse,” he said.
City officials have been preparing their offices for the Supreme Court’s decision; Mayor Eric Adams, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg and city and state officials are reportedly mulling efforts to bolster gun control policies that can withstand legal challenges.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, hailed the court’s decision as a “watershed win” for gun owners and said that it validates gun rights activists’ battles with “unconstitutional regimes” in cities and states with “revolving door criminal justice systems, no cash bail and increased harassment of law-enforcement.”
The nation’s high court issued its ruling as it nears the end of its term with a slate of high-profile opinions expected within the coming days, including a ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could eliminate legal abortion access in many states by overturning the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade.
This is a developing story