Election 2020 Politics

Supreme Court finds N.Y. law violates right to carry guns outside home

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The Supreme Court said Thursday that Americans generally have a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense and that a New York law requiring special need for such a permit is too restrictive.

The vote was 6 to 3, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority and the court’s three liberals in dissent.

“The Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” Thomas wrote, saying New York’s requirement of a specific need to carry a weapon violates that right.

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.’ ” Thomas wrote, referring to a previous Supreme Court ruling. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”

He was joined by the court’s conservatives: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed to the nearly 300 mass shootings since January and to data showing that gun violence has surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death among children and teens. The majority’s decision, he said, will make it more difficult for state lawmakers to take steps to limit the dangers of gun violence.

The Second Amendment allows states to “take account of the serious problems posed by gun violence,” wrote Breyer, who was joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He added: “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. The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so.”

Enacted more than a century ago, New York’s law requires those who want to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense to show a specific need for doing so. Its “proper cause” law is similar to regulations in California, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

The decision has taken on new significance in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., that have renewed calls for stricter gun regulations.

The Senate this week advanced a bill after 20 senators — 10 from each party — signed on to a framework agreement that coupled modest new gun restrictions with about $15 billion in new federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades.

If passed, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would be the most significant new gun restrictions since the 1990s. But it falls far short of the broader gun-control measures that President Biden and other Democrats have called for, such as a new assault weapons ban or restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“Today’s ruling is out of step with the bipartisan majority in Congress that is on the verge of passing significant gun safety legislation, and out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans who support gun safety measures,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Let’s be clear: the Supreme Court got this decision wrong, choosing to put our communities in even greater danger with gun violence on the rise across the country.”

The Supreme Court in 2008 ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment bestowed an individual the right to keep a gun in the home for personal defense rather than related to military service.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller struck a law that severely restricted gun ownership, but answered only part of what it means to “keep and bear arms.”

But it is not until now that the court has taken up the question of what it means to “bear” arms.

Supreme Court could soon make it easier to carry guns in six states

The two people challenging the law — Robert Nash and Brandon Koch — have licenses to carry handguns for hunting and target practice. But New York authorities denied their requests for “unrestricted” licenses for self-defense because officials said they could not show a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”

The National Rifle Association, which helped challenge the New York law, called the decision a “watershed win.”

“New Yorkers will soon be able to defend themselves outside of their homes without first having to prove that they have a sufficient ‘need’ to exercise their fundamental rights,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement. The ruling, he said, “opens the door to rightly change the law” in a half dozen other states “that still don’t recognize the right to carry a firearm for personal protection.”

During the two-year period of 2018 and 2019, at least 65 percent of applicants in New York were approved for an “unrestricted” license, according to a state analysis of records submitted to the court

Since the 2008 decision, lower courts have generally sided with states that restrict the right when determining how the Second Amendment applies beyond people’s homes. The justices have turned down numerous requests from gun rights advocates to review those decisions.

Scalia’s opinion made clear that the Second Amendment is not unlimited and identified several lawful restrictions, including bans in “sensitive places” such as schools and government buildings. But recently four conservative members of the court — Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — have expressed frustration about their colleagues’ apparent reluctance to reenter the gun debate.

During November’s argument, the six conservative justices expressed varying levels of support for the two people challenging New York’s law with backing of a National Rifle Association affiliate.

Twenty-five states do not require a permit to carry a firearm in public, while several others require permits but do not ask applicants to justify their need for a weapon.

The case is New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen.

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