Supreme Court strikes down NYC gun law along ideological lines

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said New York’s requirement that gun owners show a « good reason » for carrying a gun outside the home for self-defense violates the constitutional guarantee of gun rights.

“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual can exercise only after demonstrating to government officials a special need,” Thomas wrote. « That’s not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. That’s not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to the right to a defendant from confronting prosecution witnesses. And that’s not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public transportation for self-defense.

However, the dissenting justices said the court was trampling on New York’s efforts to tailor gun regulations to the particular threats posed by firearms in that state.

“When courts interpret the Second Amendment, it is constitutionally appropriate, indeed often necessary, that they consider the grave dangers and consequences of gun violence that drive states to regulate guns,” Judge Stephen Breyer wrote. in an opinion joined by judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

It was not entirely clear how the decision would impact states and localities outside of New York, which makes it difficult to obtain permits to carry firearms for self-defense outside of New York. the House. Two court members who joined Thursday’s decision, Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, suggested it would only affect six states other than New York because they also required the owner of a firearm to justify the issuance of a licence.

« The Court’s decision does not prohibit states from imposing licensing requirements for carrying a handgun for self-defense, » Kavanaugh pointed out in a brief concurring opinion that Roberts joined.

In his dissent, Breyer acknowledged that the use of firearms for hunting, target practice, and self-defense is widespread and legitimate, but said states should have wide latitude to create programs that respect these uses while mitigating the threat of widely circulating weapons.

« The balancing of these legal uses against the dangers of firearms rests primarily with elected bodies, such as legislatures, » he wrote. “It requires the consideration of facts, statistics, expert opinions, predictive judgments, relevant values ​​and a host of other circumstances, which together make decisions about how, when and where to regulate the firearms more appropriately legislative work. This consideration advises modesty and restraint on the part of judges when interpreting and applying the Second Amendment.

Breyer’s dissent is full of facts and figures about the rise of gun violence in the United States and includes explicit references to some of the most recent mass shootings, including the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 21 people and another in a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, in which 10 people were killed.

« Since the start of this year alone…there have already been 277 reported mass shootings – an average of more than one per day, » Breyer wrote.

In a solo deal, Judge Samuel Alito mocked much of Breyer’s recitation of the dangers of gun violence, calling it irrelevant to the issue of what rules states can impose to obtain a license to carry weapons outside the home.

“Why, for example, does the dissent think it is relevant to recount the mass shootings that have taken place in recent years? Alito wrote. “Does dissent believe that laws like New York’s prevent or deter such atrocities? Will a person intent on committing a mass shooting be arrested if they know it is illegal to carry a handgun outside the home? And how does dissent explain that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo? The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop this author.

During oral argument in November, the High Court’s conservative majority said the guarantee in the Bill of Rights prevented states from insisting that individuals show « good cause » before being allowed to carry a firearm. fire to defend themselves.

The Republican-appointed justices have argued that these rules treat Second Amendment rights as inferior to other constitutional rights like free speech and freedom of assembly.

Those who challenge New York’s law have argued that it is out of step with how other states view the Second Amendment, while defenders of the Empire State’s approach have pointed to a long tradition of many States imposing various limits on the possession of weapons in public.

The case decided by the Supreme Court on Thursday explores an issue left unresolved by the High Court in its 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Hellera 5-4 decision that found a constitutional right for individuals to keep a firearm in their residence but did not comment on rights beyond the home.

The New York law challenge also prompted judges to debate whether recognizing the right to carry a gun in public would spark a wave of lawsuits over efforts to restrict gun ownership in places individuals ranging from government buildings to universities to bars.

New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood said during arguments last year that permits to carry a firearm for hunting or target shooting are widely available in her state, while those for Self-defense is harder to come by, especially in the more urban parts of the state. She warned that allowing anyone working in Manhattan late at night to carry a gun would be tantamount to flooding the city’s subways with guns, raising what she called « the peculiar specter of many armed people in a space closed ».

The Biden administration had encouraged judges to allow New York to maintain its regulatory system, arguing that while the rights to free speech and religious freedom were generally considered constant from state to state, the country had long tolerated widely varying gun regulations.

“The Second Amendment has a distinct history and tradition,” Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher said during arguments in November.


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