A decision in the United States Supreme Court’s most important gun rights case in over a decade is expected any day now.
The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v Bruen, is closely watched because it addresses whether New York state’s concealed carry law violates the Second Amendment.
It is the most important Second Amendment case since the Supreme Court upheld the right to bear arms in a 2010 decision that declared Chicago’s nearly 30-year ban on handgun ownership unconstitutional.
The case, filed by the NRA-affiliated New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, centers on a century-old New York state law that requires gun owners to demonstrate “proper cause” to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. Even if basic requirements are met, local authorities currently have the authority to decide who receives a concealed carry license.
According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, carrying concealed weapons in public requires a permit in 25 states. New York is one of eight states and the District of Columbia that have such “may issue” concealed carry laws. A permit may be denied if, for example, the applicant has not demonstrated a compelling reason to carry a weapon in public.
Meanwhile, seventeen “shall issue” states issue concealed carry permits to those who meet basic qualifications with little to no discretion. The remaining 25 states generally allow people to carry concealed weapons in most public spaces without a permit, according to the Giffords Law Center.
Gun control advocates, such as the Giffords Law Center, warn that loosening concealed carry laws could increase the risk of gun violence, while gun rights advocates argue that laws like New York’s are unjust and excessively discretionary.
The case is also being decided at a time when the country is experiencing record levels of gun violence and gun deaths, as well as a string of deadly mass shootings that have reignited calls for gun reform, as well as record gun sales.
Many of the court’s conservative justices seemed skeptical of New York-style laws during oral arguments on the case in November, raising concerns about public safety if restrictions were rolled back too far.
With the Supreme Court seemingly poised to strike down New York’s proper-cause requirement, it will be a matter of “how narrowly or broadly that opinion is written,” according to Darrell Miller, a constitutional law professor at Duke University.
If it overturns New York’s concealed-carry restrictions, the Supreme Court may have to consider where guns should be prohibited, according to Miller.
The justices could either uphold the law, allowing New York to continue to exercise discretion in issuing concealed carry licenses, or they could say they don’t want to hear the case right now – both of which appear unlikely, according to Miller.
The justices could remand the case to the district court to gather more facts, such as how frequently people are denied concealed carry licenses in New York, according to Chandler, though this also appears unlikely.
If the court rules that New York’s discretionary licensing law is unconstitutional, Miller predicts that similar laws in other states will be challenged, depending on how narrow or broad the decision is.
Miller also noted that a technical but potentially consequential “sleeper issue” in this case is whether the court takes a “text, history, and tradition”-only approach in instructing lower courts on how to think about Second Amendment rights, or if judges can continue to consider modern evidence such as social science data while balancing individual rights against state laws promoting public safety.
According to Miller, the text, history, and tradition-only approach, which gun rights advocates have pushed, “essentially says that only those regulations that have some equal or analogue in history are constitutional, and all other regulations are not.”
According to Miller, who was among a group of scholars who filed a brief in the Bruen case on behalf of neither party, urging the court not to apply a text, history, and tradition-only approach.
If New York’s law remains unchanged, there are other Second Amendment cases in the pipeline that are seeking Supreme Court review, Miller said.