(The Hill) — The Supreme Court Thursday struck down a New York state law that made it difficult to obtain a permit to carry a firearm outside the home, marking the justices’ first major opinion on Second Amendment rights. in more than a decade.
The 6-3 decision to invalidate the New York law calls into question the legality of similar restrictions in more than a half-dozen other states that give licensing officials broad discretion over concealed-carry permits.
The ruling broke ideological lines, with all six conservatives on the court joining a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas.
The New York law in question required applicants for concealed carry permits to demonstrate a special need for a license, beyond a basic desire for self-defense. In striking down the law, court conservatives ruled that the so-called “good cause requirement” prevented “law-abiding citizens with ordinary needs for self-defense from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.”
“We are not aware of any other constitutional rights that an individual can exercise only after demonstrating to government officials some special need,” Thomas wrote for the majority. “This is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. That is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to the defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him. And that’s not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carrying for self-defense.”
The three liberals on the court, in disagreement, accused the conservative majority of failing to consider “the potentially deadly consequences of their decision.”
The ruling comes after recent mass shootings reignited a wrenching debate over how to balance the constitutional right to bear arms with Americans’ concerns for personal safety in a country with more than 390 million privately owned firearms.
The opinion builds on the court’s last major decision on gun rights more than a decade ago. In its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, a 5-4 court ruled that the Constitution protects a person’s right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense. The Heller court noted that the Second Amendment “is not limitless,” but left unanswered what restrictions are constitutionally permitted.
The dispute arose after two New York residents were denied unrestricted carry licenses. Backed by an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, the applicants sued licensing officials and, after losing in the lower courts, made their ultimately successful appeal to the Supreme Court.
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