The Supreme Court on Thursday recognized a constitutional right to carry firearms for self-defense for the first time, a sweeping victory for Second Amendment rights.
The justices struck down New York State’s restrictions on concealed carry in a far-reaching ruling poised to undo remaining limits on the right to carry. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the majority opinion for a 6-3 Court over dissents from the liberal trio.
The decision easily eclipses the bipartisan gun-control legislation advancing in Congress. The bill, crafted after deadly mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas, means to beef up red-flag laws, improve information sharing for background checks, and increase security at schools. For gun-control advocates, the effort is their first victory at the federal level since the 1990s. But it will be a hollow one in view of Thursday’s ruling, which casts doubt on the constitutionality of numerous limits on carrying guns in public.
The Court first recognized an individual right to self-defense in the home in a 2008 case, D.C. v. Heller. In Thursday’s case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the justices said that a right they recognized over a decade ago applies with equal force outside the home.
“Nothing in the Second Amendment’s text draws a home/public distinction with respect to the right to keep and bear arms,” Thomas wrote.
At issue in the case is a New York “proper cause” law that requires residents to prove a special need for self-defense to obtain a concealed-carry permit. In practice, none but a favored few—former law enforcement or celebrities, for example—can prove proper cause. For example, New York City residents have to show “extraordinary personal danger, documented by proof of recurrent threats to life or safety.”
Laws like New York’s are becoming uncommon. Twenty-five states have “constitutional carry,” or permitless concealed carry of firearms, according to the National Rifle Association’s legislative arm. Only eight states restrict concealed carry with cause-based requirements like New York’s. Thursday’s decision casts doubt on the constitutionality of those restrictions.
New York’s onerous limitations even came under attack from civil rights groups. Minorities account for a disproportionately large share of defendants in carry cases in New York State, according to an amicus brief from the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid, filed on behalf of public defenders and legal assistance groups. The brief also complained that working class minority gun-owners are priced out of the licensing system, since applications cost hundreds of dollars.
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