WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a broad right to arm themselves in public, overturning a New York law that imposed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home and sparking a stampede in other states that have similar restrictions.
The decision is expected to trigger a wave of lawsuits aimed at easing existing state and federal restrictions and will force five states – California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, which are home to a quarter of all Americans – to rewrite their laws. .
The decision follows last month’s mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, and came the day the Senate passed gun control legislation that would improve background checks on potential buyers of guns between the ages of 18 and 21, would encourage states to adopt so-called red flag laws, and strengthen the federal ban on domestic abusers from purchasing firearms. It was the most significant congressional action on gun legislation in nearly three decades.
The 6-3 decision again illustrated the power of the six conservative justices, who all voted to strike down the New York law, in setting the national agenda on social issues. The three liberal members of the tribunal expressed their dissent.
The Second Amendment, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.” States can continue to ban firearms in certain places like schools and government buildings, Justice Thomas wrote, but the decision left open where exactly such bans might be allowed.
Moments after the decision was released, Governor Kathy Hochul of New York promised to reconvene the Legislative Assembly as early as next month to pass new measures that could allow the state to maintain existing regulations. Maryland Democratic lawmakers also suggested they would rewrite the legislation to survive expected legal challenges.
“We are already facing a major gun violence crisis,” Ms. Hochul said. “We don’t need to add more fuel to this fire.”
The so-called relevant case can enact laws, which give government officials substantial discretion over the issuance of firearms licenses.
In a concurring opinion, which seemed to limit the scope of the majority opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., wrote that “must issue” laws use objective criteria and remained presumed constitutional. States were generally free to require, he wrote, “fingerprinting, background checks, mental health records checks, and training in firearms and gun laws. ‘use of force’.
Judge Kavanaugh also cited extensively from the court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, who seemed to approve of further restrictions.
President Biden denounced the decision, describing himself as “deeply disappointed.” This “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution and should trouble us all deeply,” he added.
Gun rights advocates welcomed the decision on Thursday. “The court has made it clear that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not limited to the home,” said Larry Keane, a senior official with the leading firearms industry trade group, National Shooting Sports. Foundation. “The onus is on the government to justify the restrictions, not on the individual to justify to the government the need to exercise their rights.”
Gun maker stock prices rose on Wall Street, with Smith & Wesson climbing more than 9%.
Jonathan Lowy, an attorney for Brady, a gun control group, said the decision was a serious misstep. “With the stroke of a pen,” he said in a statement, “the Supreme Court today invented a so-called right to carry, virtually anywhere, loaded weapons – to potentially shoot and kill people. ‘other people”.
The case centered on a trial of two men who were denied the licenses they sought in New York, claiming that “the state makes it virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to obtain a license.”
The men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, were cleared to carry guns for target practice and hunting away from populated areas, state officials told the Supreme Court, and Mr. Koch was cleared to carry a gun to and from work.
Justice Thomas wrote that citizens may not be required to explain to the government why they sought to exercise a constitutional right.
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual can exercise only after demonstrating to government officials a special need,” he wrote.
“That’s not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion,” he added. “That’s not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront prosecution witnesses. And that’s not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public transportation for self-defense.
The majority opinion heralded a general standard by which the courts must now judge gun rights restrictions, a standard that is based on historical assessments: “The government must demonstrate that the regulations conform to the this country’s historic tradition of gun regulation.
By focusing heavily on history, Judge Thomas rejected the standard used by most lower courts, which considered whether the law served an important government interest.
He acknowledged that the historical inquiry the court is now requiring will not always be straightforward.
Judge Thomas wrote that states remain free to ban guns in sensitive places, giving a few examples: schools, government buildings, legislatures, polling places, and courthouses. But he warned that “broadening the category of ‘sensitive places’ simply to all places of public assembly that are not isolated from law enforcement defines the category of ‘sensitive places’ far too broadly” .
Dissenting, Judge Stephen G. Breyer said the majority’s advice was inadequate, leaving the scope of the court’s decision unclear.
“What about subways, nightclubs, cinemas and sports stadiums?” wrote Judge Breyer. “The court doesn’t say that.”
Justice Breyer’s dissent, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, focused on the deadly toll of gun violence.
“In 2020,” he writes, “45,222 Americans were killed by firearms. Since the start of this year, 277 mass shootings have been reported, an average of more than one per day. Armed violence has now overtaken road accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. responded to the dissent.
“It is difficult to see what legitimate purpose can possibly be served by the bulk of the lengthy dissenting introductory section,” he wrote. “Why, for example, does the dissent think it relevant to report on the mass killings that have taken place in recent years? Does dissent believe that laws like New York’s prevent or deter such atrocities?
“Will a person determined to commit a mass shooting be arrested if they know it is illegal to carry a handgun outside the home?” asked Judge Alito. “And how does dissent explain the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo? The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop this author.
Judge Breyer questioned the majority’s methodology for judging the constitutionality of gun control laws in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, No. 20-843.
“The court’s near-exclusive reliance on history is not only unnecessary, it is profoundly unworkable,” he wrote. “It imposes a task on lower courts that judges cannot easily accomplish.”
Judges, he writes, are not historians. “Legal experts generally have little experience in answering contested historical questions or applying those answers to solve contemporary problems,” he wrote, adding, “Laws dealing with repeating crossbows, launcegays, Dirks, daggers, hanks, stilladers, and other ancient weapons will be of little help to courts faced with modern problems.
In Heller, the Supreme Court recognized the individual right to keep firearms in the home for self-defence. Since then, he has remained almost silent on the scope of Second Amendment rights.
Indeed, for many years the court has dismissed countless appeals in Second Amendment cases. In the meantime, lower courts have generally upheld gun control laws.
The court’s reluctance to hear Second Amendment cases has changed as its members have moved to the right in recent years. The three President Donald J. Trump appointees — Justices Kavanaugh, Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — have all expressed support for gun rights.
And more conservative members of the Supreme Court have long lamented the court’s reluctance to explore the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment.
In 2017, Judge Thomas wrote that he had detected “a disturbing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disadvantaged right.”
“To those of us who work in marble halls, permanently guarded by a vigilant and dedicated police force, Second Amendment safeguards may seem antiquated and superfluous,” Judge Thomas wrote. “But the authors made a clear choice: they reserved for all Americans the right to bear arms in self-defense.”
Thrush Glenn contributed report.