The Supreme Court issued its decision in a major case involving whether there is a fundamental right to carry a concealed handgun outside the home in public for self-defense on Wednesday.
The court overturned a century-old New York law that restricted concealed carry of handguns in public to those with “just cause.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s most senior conservative member, wrote the 6-3 decision. The three liberal justices voted no.
The Second and Fourteenth Amendments, according to Thomas, protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.
“Because the State of New York only issues public-carry licenses when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense,” Thomas writes, “we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.”
“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a second-class right,” he wrote.
“In accordance with Heller, we hold that when the plain text of the Second Amendment covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. To justify its regulation, the government cannot simply claim that it serves a vital interest. Rather, the government must show that the regulation is consistent with this country’s long history of firearm regulation “Thomas penned a letter.
“A court may conclude that an individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command’ only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition,” the opinion stated.
The decision will have the greatest immediate impact on New York and seven other states, which have a similar “proper cause” requirement for concealed carry of firearms in public.
Most states have more lax laws regarding carrying firearms in public. Thirty-one states allow open carry without a permit, and 21 allow concealed carry without a permit.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh emphasized a key limitation preserved by the decision: licensing requirements for concealed carry are still permissible, but not “discretionary.”
A concealed carry license is not required in 43 states as long as the gun owner passes a background check and completes safety training.
Overall, Thomas’ opinion is broad, tightening the standard the court uses to evaluate state gun restrictions and potentially opening the door to a flood of new legal challenges across the country.
In a dissent joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, Justice Stephen Breyer noted the record of 45,000 Americans killed by firearms in 2020.
The case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, involves a state requirement that applicants for concealed carry permits demonstrate “proper cause” – a distinct need for individual self-defense – in order to be approved.
The century-old law was challenged by two New York gun owners as being highly discretionary and unconstitutional. State officials granted each a limited license for concealed carry, but they were prohibited from carrying a weapon in public places.
Gun rights advocates argue that armed citizens pose a greater threat to public safety than unarmed citizens.
State officials argued that the state’s permitting system is rooted in history and tradition, and that it is critical to limiting the threat of gun violence in sensitive areas. Seven other states in the United States, home to more than 80 million people, have similar “proper cause” permitting regimes.
Last year, New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood argued in court that less restrictive concealed carry regimes would “multiply the number of firearms carried in high-density places.” “The proliferation of weapons on subways frightens a lot of people.”
In his initial reaction, President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed” by the ruling, which he said “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all.”
Biden urged states to continue enacting “commonsense gun laws,” citing the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008 that established the right to have a gun for self-defense in the home, to say the Second Amendment is not unlimited or “absolute.”