Supreme Court overturns New York gun law on Second Amendment grounds

In its 6-3 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down a New York state law requiring applicants for a license to carry a handgun outside their homes to have a “proper reason” to do so, saying it would violate the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

The judgment in the case known as the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen is a major victory for gun rights advocates who challenged New York’s restrictive law, which makes carrying a concealed firearm without a license a crime.

It also marks the Supreme Court’s largest expansion of gun rights in more than a decade and casts doubt on laws in eight other states and the District of Columbia that restrict concealed carry permits in ways similar to New York’s.

Six Conservative justices on the Supreme Court voted to strike down the law, which has been in place for more than a century, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing a majority opinion in the case.

All three court liberals voted to support the law, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing dissent on the decision.

A US Supreme Court police officer stands in front of gun rights protesters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, US, on Monday, December 2, 2019.

Andrew Harrier | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In the majority view, Thomas wrote that the New York law violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that citizens have a right to equal protection under the law, because it “prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary needs for self-defense from exercising their right to keep and bear arms” as protected by the amendment Second.

The verdict comes weeks after the mass shootings in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, and another elementary school in Texas, reigniting national debate over US gun laws.

New York’s elected Democratic officials quickly condemned Thursday’s decision, which they said would endanger public safety.

“This decision is not only reckless, it is reprehensible,” said New York Governor Cathy Hochhol, a Democrat. “That’s not what New Yorkers want. And we should have a right to decide what we want to do with our state’s gun laws.”

It’s because “the federal government won’t have blanket laws to protect us…our states and governors have a moral responsibility to do what we can and we have laws that protect our citizens because of what’s going on — the gun culture madness that has gripped everyone even the Supreme Court,” Hochul said.

The case was brought by the New York State Rifle and Handgun Association and two of its members, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, whose applications for licenses to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense purposes were denied.

New York Supreme Court Judge Richard McNally, who handled the two licensing applications, ruled that neither of the two men showed a proper reason to carry a gun in public because they failed to demonstrate that they had a special need for self-protection.

The plaintiffs then challenged this refusal in federal court in New York, arguing that state law governing crypto-carry licenses, which allow them only when “there is proper reason to issue them,” violates the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The law also requires applicants to have a “good moral character”.

After a federal judge in New York dismissed the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit confirmed that ruling. Then the US Supreme Court took up the case.

Thomas wrote, in the majority view, that the New York proper cause requirement, as interpreted by state courts, was inconsistent with “the nation’s history of firearms regulation.”

Thomas wrote, “No state shall forbid law-abiding citizens to carry pistols in public because they have shown no particular need for self-defence.”

But Breyer, in his dissent, wrote, “Only by ignoring the abundance of historical evidence supporting regulations restricting public transportation of firearms can the court conclude that New York law is inconsistent with the nation’s historical tradition of regulating firearms.”

Breyer also wrote: “Many states have attempted to address some of the risks of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may buy, carry, or use firearms of different types.”

“The Court today is overburdening the efforts of states to do so.”

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