The court’s decision struck down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a particular need for carrying a gun in order to get a license to carry one in public. The justices said that requirement violated the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms”.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defence outside the home”. That right is not a “second-class right,” Thomas wrote. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have laws similar to New York’s.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the ruling comes at a particularly painful time, when New York is still mourning the deaths of 10 people in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo. “This decision isn’t just backwards. It’s reprehensible. It’s not what New Yorkers want,” she said.
But Tom King, president of the plaintiff New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he was relieved.
“The lawful and legal gun owner of New York State is no longer going to be persecuted by laws that have nothing to do with the safety of the people and will do nothing to make the people safer,” he said. “And maybe now we’ll start going after criminals and perpetrators of these heinous acts.”
The court’s decision is somewhat out of step with public opinion. About half of voters in the 2020 presidential election said gun laws in the US should be made more strict, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the electorate. An additional third said laws should be kept as they are, while only about one in 10 said gun laws should be less strict.
About eight in 10 Democratic voters said gun laws should be made more strict, VoteCast showed. Among Republican voters, roughly half said laws should be kept as they are, while the remaining half closely divided between more and less strict.
In a court dissent joined by his liberal colleagues on Thursday, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll taken by gun violence. “Since the start of this year alone (2022), there have already been 277 reported mass shootings—an average of more than one per day,” Breyer wrote.
Backers of New York’s law had argued that striking it down would lead to more guns on the streets and higher rates of violent crime. Gun violence, which was already on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, has spiked anew.
In most of the country gun owners have little difficulty legally carrying their weapons in public. But that had been harder to do in New York and the handful of states with similar laws. New York’s law, which has been in place since 1913, says that to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license has to show “proper cause,” a specific need to carry the weapon.
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