Supreme Court strikes down New York gun law

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court moments ago struck down a New York gun law that places restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon outside the home.

This is the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade: In 2008, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep and bear arms in the home for self-defense.

However, after the ruling, to the frustration of gun rights advocates, lower courts relied on the language of the opinion to uphold many gun regulations.

“Nothing, in our opinion, should be taken to call into question long-standing bans on the possession of firearms by criminals and the mentally ill, or laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” then-Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. for the majority in the Heller case.

Except for a follow-up decision two years later, the justices largely steered clear of the issue, angering gun rights advocates and even some of the justices themselves.

Justice Clarence Thomas stated at one point that the “Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”

Which brings us to this case: After Judge Amy Coney Barrett took her seat, the court agreed to take a new case, highlighting the impact of former President Donald Trump’s three nominees on the court.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen was referring to a New York law that governs licenses to carry concealed firearms in public for self-defense. Requires a resident to obtain a license to carry a concealed pistol or revolver and show that there is “adequate cause” for the permit. Residents must demonstrate that they have a serious need for the license and that they face a “special or unique danger to life.”

This is what the judges had to say during the arguments: In oral arguments, the conservative-majority court appeared poised to strike down the New York law for going too far, though it is always dangerous to measure the outcome of a case by what judges say in open court. There seemed to be broad support for regulations governing sensitive locations, but the looming question will be the breadth of the decision and how it might affect other laws.

The arguments took place on November 3, 2021, months before a mass shooting in the Brooklyn subway carried out by a gunman who put on a gas mask, unfurled a gas canister and then began shooting, shooting at least 33 times. In May, a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York; less than two weeks later, another killed 21 adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

During oral arguments, several of the justices raised questions about the regulations targeting sensitive locations, including the subway. Paul Clement, a lawyer for the NRA affiliate behind the challenge, argued that New York “has a right to have laws that say you can’t keep guns in sensitive places” and that he wasn’t challenging those laws.

For her part, liberal Justice Elena Kagan pressed Clement for his views on the definition of sensitive places. She was the first to mention the New York City subways and asked if they count as sensitive places.

Noting that his clients live outside of New York City, Clement said, “I guess I could give the subway away because they’re not in Manhattan. They’re in Rensselaer County.”

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito, perhaps trying to gauge the scope of the eventual opinion, looked at the issue from the perspective of law-abiding people who ride the subway and want to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves.

Alito asked New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood about people coming home from work late at night in Manhattan. A doorman, a nurse, someone who washes the dishes are all citizens who have to “come home on the subway.” Alito suggested that they may be scared people but would not qualify for a license under New York law.

Read more about the case and the implications of the opinion here.

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