Supreme Court Strikes Down New York Gun Law, Expanding Concealed Carry Rights

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law that restricted the carrying of concealed firearms in public for self-defense was unconstitutional because it required applicants for a concealed carry license to prove a special need for self-defense.

New York’s 108-year-old law restricting who can obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun in public was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision that reversed a lower court’s upholding of the law. Supporters of the measure expressed concern that a Supreme Court ruling nullifying it could jeopardize state gun control laws and lead to an increase in firearms in urban areas.

Even though the Supreme Court was ideologically split, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion that New York’s “proper-cause requirement” made it impossible for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right, making the state’s licensing regime unconstitutional.

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“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,'” Thomas wrote. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down New York Gun Law

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court’s liberal wing in a dissenting opinion, pointed out the increase in gun violence and the prevalence of firearms in the United States and warned that the decision would “severely” burden states trying to pass stricter firearms laws.

“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,” Breyer wrote. “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.”

Supreme Court strikes down New York
Supreme Court strikes down New York

After a spate of mass shootings from mid-May to early June shocked the nation, the Supreme Court’s decision has prompted lawmakers to once again seek common ground on a legislative strategy to reduce gun violence. Ten people were killed when a racist gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 14. Ten days later, on August 19th, a gunman opened fire inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 students and two teachers. Then, on June 1st, a medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the scene of a shooting that left four people dead.

Since the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling upholding the right to keep firearms in the home for self-defense, this decision represents the first expansion of gun rights. It should be noted that the New York court case was the most significant Second Amendment case before the court since its 2008 decision and its 2010 ruling that said the right to have a handgun in the home applies to the states.

In a statement, President Biden expressed his “deep disappointment by the decision” and renewed his call for states to pass legislation to restrict access to firearms.

“This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” he said.

The dispute revolves around a 1913 New York law that mandates residents seeking a license to carry a gun outside the home show “proper cause” to obtain one, which state courts have said is a “special need for self-protection.”

Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, the plaintiffs in this case, both applied for carrying licenses but were denied because they did not provide sufficient justification for carrying handguns in public. Two of them have been given “restricted” permits to carry firearms while engaging in activities such as hunting and target practice.

Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul blasted the Supreme Court’s decision, calling it “outrageous” that the court “recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons” at a time of “national reckoning” on gun violence.

In light of the court’s decision, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City has warned that residents are “put at further risk of gun violence.” He promised a “comprehensive review” of the method used to determine which areas are off-limits to concealed carry and a reevaluation of the application process to weed out ineligible applicants.

“This decision may have opened an additional river feeding the sea of gun violence, but we will do everything we can to dam it,” he said.

Former President Trump took credit for the court’s ruling, saying on his Truth Social platform, “Elections have consequences. I promised to appoint Judges and Justices that would stand up for the Constitution. Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Second Amendment Right of all Americans.”

One-half of the states require a permit from the state in order to carry a concealed firearm in public, and another six states (including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) allow a person to carry a firearm in public only if they have a need to do so.

Officials in those six states can refuse to issue licenses even if an applicant otherwise meets all requirements set forth in law.

During oral arguments in November, New York officials and the Biden administration urged the Supreme Court to uphold the law, warning the justices that invalidating the measure could have a domino effect, putting at risk not only the states’ restrictions but also others that limit public carry in places where people congregate, like airports, arenas, churches, and schools

Justice Samuel Alito, writing a concurring opinion, criticized Breyer’s dissent for referencing recent mass shootings.

“Does the dissent think that laws like New York’s prevent or deter such atrocities? Will a person bent on carrying out a mass shooting be stopped if he knows that it is illegal to carry a handgun outside the home? And how does the dissent account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo?” he wrote. “The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator.”

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