The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York State law that prohibited citizens from using their guns outside their homes or cars without a state-issued permit. The decision was voted along ideological lines, with the six conservative justices agreeing to scrap the NY gun law while the three liberal justices dissented from the opinion of the Court written by Justice Thomas.
The ruling comes at a time when gun control regulations are being highly contested and debated throughout the country. This week, the Senate reached a deal on a bipartisan bill creating “red flag” laws as a response to the Uvalde school shooting, a deal that has opened some divisions within the Republican Party. The Supreme Court’s decision to void New York’s restrictive gun licensing law could become the basis for legal challenges against similar laws in other states.
As expected, conservative politicians have applauded the decision while liberals have expressed consternation over it. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) called the decision a “big win for the Second Amendment at the Supreme Court”, while NY Gov. Kathy Hochul said the decision was “outrageous.”
How New York Violated the U.S. Constitution
The law in question was one that makes it illegal for anyone to have a gun either inside or outside their house. Furthermore, the state requires anyone who wants to carry a gun outside their home to apply for a special permit where it must be proved that the applicant has a “special need for self-protection” that is different from that of the general community.
This law meant that applicants had to prove a history of threats against their integrity in order for the state to issue the permit, as a general wish to defend themselves or their property would not suffice in the standard imposed by the New York state statute.
The ruling is the first major gun case the Court has decided in more than a decade, and it could have far-ranging implications on similar gun control laws that exist throughout the country. In its 63-page opinion, Justice Thomas argued that the Second Amendment’s protection to “bear” arms, “naturally encompasses public carry” and that limiting the right to bearing arms in one’s home would be incompatible with the principle of self-defense, which the court defined as the “central component of the [Second Amendment] right itself” in the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case.
Thomas concluded that in order for a state to lawfully limit the right to carry a firearm outside the home, the states must have the burden to show their regulations follow the “Nation’s historic tradition of firearm’s regulation”, which Thomas argues the New York gun law did not do.
Furthermore, the Court used precedent to argue that the Second Amendment should not be considered a “second-class right” and that it must be regulated in the same way that the rest of the Bill of Rights is, and that the Court knew of “no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officials some special need”, noting that neither the First nor Sixth Amendment work in that way.
The Liberal Justices Claimed that the Court was Ignoring Gun Violence
In a dissenting opinion signed by the three liberal Justices and written by soon-to-be-retired Justice Breyer, the liberal wing of the bench argued that the decision of the Court to declare the NY gun law unconstitutional is mistaken as the Court did not take into account the “State’s compelling interests in preventing gun violence.”
Breyer argued that the Court failed to properly address the question of the extent to which the Second Amendment “prevents democratically elected officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence” as the bench did not discuss the details and nature of the gun violence problem in the United States.
The liberal Justice argues that it is the duty of the democratically elected state officials to balance the interests of the state in preventing gun violence and the rights of gun owners who have firearms for legitimate purposes and that the Second Amendment leaves enough room for the states to take measures they consider appropriate to address gun violence considering the unique circumstances of each state.
The Ruling Does Not Affect All Gun Licensing Laws
While the New York law will be scrapped from the books, not all laws are written in the same way as that of New York. The Empire State uses a language that gives government officials a lot of discretion when deciding which licenses to approve and which ones to reject, something the Court defines as a “may-issue” regulatory regime.
A concurrent opinion written by Justice Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts clarifies that the direct issue at stake is the constitutionality of the “may-issue” regulatory regimes and that Thursday’s ruling would not outlaw the gun licensing laws of 43 states that use a “shall-issue” regime instead, where the applicant may be asked to fulfill a set of requirements, but the government official is compelled to approve the permit once those requirements are met. Kavanaugh and Roberts argued that the “shall issue” regimes are constitutionally allowed as they do not give “open-ended discretion” to government officials and do not ask for applicants to show a special need for the permit besides self-defense.
Although Thursday’s ruling is a clear big win for gun rights activists, the case will surely not be the last legal fight over the constitutionality of gun control laws, as the decision still leaves many questions unanswered over which type of gun licensing state laws would still be considered to be constitutional in the long-run.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.