The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that New York state’s law requiring unrestricted concealed carry license applicants show a need for self-defense is unconstitutional. The high court voted 6-3 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen in favor of gun owners to overturn the Empire State’s restrictions. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision that found the law violates Second Amendment gun rights by prohibiting citizens from exercising their right to bear arms in public for self-defense.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented.
Justice Thomas wrote for the majority “that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense 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, and the definition of ‘bear” naturally encompasses public carry,” Thomas said.
“Moreover, the Second Amendment guarantees an ‘individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,’” he continued, adding, “and confrontation can surely take place outside the home.”
History of the case
In making the ruling, the high court overturned an opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which stated New York’s proper cause requirement does not violate the Second Amendment. The case was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York where it was dismissed.
“While communities across the nation continue to suffer senseless gun violence, the burden of protecting Americans from mass shootings falls on states. New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, but guns do not stop working as they cross the threshold of another state’s border, which is why our gun licensing laws are necessary,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said. James filed the successful motion to dismiss the case.
The petitioners in the case, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, were denied unrestricted licenses because the licensing officer determined they did not establish a non-speculative need for armed self-defense in all public places. The pair were approved for concealed carry licenses to target practice, hunting and “off road back country” areas. Koch received extra authorization for self-defense carrying to and from work. Nash and Koch sued because they said restricting where they can carry in the interest of self-defense violated their Second Amendment rights.
Paul D. Clement, counsel for the petitioners, argued New York’s law made it “all but impossible” for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights because it placed the decision in the hands of a local official “vested with broad discretion.”
“That restrictive and discretionary regime is upside down,” Clement wrote in his briefing.
New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood argued Supreme Court precedent and state and federal law allow restrictions on when and where gun owners can carry their weapons. Underwood gave the example of places with existing restrictions like courthouses, airports, stadiums and arenas.
Underwood urged the justices to keep New York’s license law in place.
“It would not simply invalidate longstanding ‘proper cause’ laws like New York’s. It would also jeopardize the firearm restrictions that all States and the federal government have adopted to protect the public in sensitive places,” Underwood wrote in a brief.