The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (June 23) overturned decades of legal precedent in New York state and in doing so significantly curtailed what states and cities can do to regulate the concealed carry of weapons. The ruling was a big win for gun rights advocates.
Justices voted 6-3 in the case of New York State Rifle & Police Association Inc. v. Bruen, and Superintendent of New York State Police to overturn the state’s “proper-cause requirement” that limited the ability of residents with “ordinary self-defense needs” from obtaining an unrestricted concealed-carry permit.
The Court, with the majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, essentially said the previous Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller went a step too far in allowing any government the right to add requirements to the “right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.” The Court ruled that New York’s law, in place in various forms since the early 1900’s, violated the Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment because it prevented citizens from full access to gun use. (Link here for a PDF of the ruling.)
“In keeping with Heller, we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest,” Thomas wrote. “Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command.’”
Thomas also noted: “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.” We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said the majority opinion “rests up several serious mistakes.”
“In my view, when courts interpret the Second Amendment, it is constitutionally proper, indeed often necessary, for them to consider the serious dangers and consequences of gun violence that lead States to regulate firearms. The Second Circuit has done so and has held that New York’s law does not violate the Second Amendment. I would affirm that holding. At a minimum, I would not strike down the law based only on the pleadings, as the Court does today – without first allowing for the development of an evidentiary record and without considering the State’s compelling interest in preventing gun violence,” Breyer wrote.
Breyer also said the primary plaintiffs in the lower court case were in fact provided concealed carry permits, but sought to remove all restrictions on when and where they could carry a weapon.
“Under New York’s regime, petitioners Brandon Koch and Robert Nash have obtained restricted licenses that permit them to carry a concealed handgun for certain purposes and at certain times and places. They wish to expand the scope of their licenses so that they can carry a concealed handgun without restriction,” he noted.
Brady, one of America’s oldest gun violence prevention groups that led lobbying for the 1993 Brady Bill, pushed back against the ruling.
“The Court has chosen to obstruct Americans from obtaining the common sense laws they want and need to protect their families and communities, a decision that defies centuries of gun regulation. As dangerous as the decision is, its legal reasoning is worse; the Court relies on alternative history, disregarding historical facts that are inconvenient for its policy agenda, and basically erases half of the Second Amendment’s text, and its purpose to protect well-regulated militia. This is extremist judicial activism at its worst, and Americans may die as a result of what the Court issued in the sanctity of its protected chambers. We can not let this dictate America’s future,” wrote Brady Chief Counsel Jonathan Lowy.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the Court’s ruling “shocking.”
“We can have restrictions on speech. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but somehow there’s no restrictions allowed on the second amendment,” Hochul said in remarks shortly after the ruling was issued Thursday morning. “The law we’re talking about has been in place since the early 1900s. … We do not need people entering our subways, our restaurants, our movie theaters with concealed weapons. We don’t need more guns on our streets. We’re already dealing with a major gun violence crisis. We don’t need to add more fuel to this fire.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, now considered a likely 2024 U.S. presidential candidate, praised the ruling.
“Today’s opinion by the Supreme Court is a victory not only for gun owners but also all Americans who wish to lawfully exercise their constitutionally protected rights. Law-abiding Americans do not need to demonstrate a special need to exercise their right to bear arms,” he said.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., also agreed with the Court’s majority opinion.
“I applaud the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms and rejecting attempts to chip away at it through burdensome, unreasonable regulations. The Second Amendment is fundamental to law-abiding citizens’ ability to practice lawful self-defense and protection.”