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Why New Yorkers Shouldn’t Panic Over the SCOTUS Pistol Decision

It’s about to get easier for New Yorkers to carry guns in public.

For more than a century, someone wanting to pack the heat around New York State has had to show they have a particular reason for needing protection — not just a general desire to defend themselves. But the Supreme Court has now ruled 6-3, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, that this is an unconstitutional violation of the right to own and bear arms.

This is a landmark case, settling – at least, perhaps, until the Liberals take over the Court – the question of whether the right to “bear arms” encompasses the right to bear arms in public to defend themselves, unrelated to militia service and without the need to assert particular circumstances.

The opinion of Clarence Thomas, three agreements of other conservative judges and a dissent of the three liberals of the Court occupy 135 pages. The document is gripping reading for any American who cares about this issue, with careful historical analysis of the two deeply divided sides and some important questions left for future cases.

But what does this really mean for guns in New York?

Judge Clarence Thomas said the law “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to hold and bear arms in public.”
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool

Many New Yorkers are sure to be upset, not only because they are ideologically anti-gun, but also because New York City is incredibly dense – which makes gunfire especially dangerous and allows also better police coverage, reducing the need for citizens to take matters into their own hands.

Certainly, the decision is a victory for gun rights activists and a defeat for those who want to maintain (or even expand) the state’s supposedly strict rules. But Big Apple residents shouldn’t panic just yet, for two major reasons.

First, while New York can no longer require specific reasons for a permit to transport, a wide range of other regulations are still permitted. These rules would apply equally to everyone, as opposed to the discretion-laden status quo, with its corruption scandals.

Why New Yorkers Shouldn’t Panic Over the SCOTUS Pistol Decision
A ban on guns on the subway, for example, would not only apply to the subway, but would also discourage the carrying of firearms among all who regularly use the subway.
Christopher Sadowski

They include gun bans in “sensitive” areas, as well as onerous fees and training requirements for anyone wishing to carry one. The decision does not spell out the exact contours of what will be upheld in future legal challenges – as the dissent pointedly notes, for example, gun bans in “subways, nightclubs, movie theaters and sports stadiums” are not specifically addressed – but one imagines that New York, of all places, will push these regulations as far as they can go.

New York can minimize the number of people who get permits; ensure that these people are as law-abiding, mature and well-trained as possible; and, at least for now, keep (legal) guns completely out of daily life in the city. A ban on guns on the subway, for example, would not only apply to the subway, but would also discourage the carrying of firearms among all who regularly use the subway. Many private companies can also be relied upon to ban firearms on their property, making it even harder for a concealed carrier to go through the day armed.

And second, much of the rest of the country — including states with large urban areas — has already implemented the “right to wear” policies required by the ruling, with effects on crime rates that are at better subdued and unclear.

It’s just not the case that crime explodes (or plummets) when states allow law-abiding citizens to carry guns, and a quarter century of research has failed to determine the more subtle effects, if any, of laws.

Some studies have found crime-reducing effects (dating back to John Lott’s “more guns, less crime” lightning rod results, published in the 1990s); some studies have suggested crime-increasing effects (notably the recent paper by John Donohue and two co-authors); still other studies say there is no effect at all, or at least not large enough to be measured statistically (see, for example, William English’s reworking of Donohue et al.’s analysis).

New York isn’t quite like anywhere else, of course, but decades of experience elsewhere should count for a lot. And those other states tend to have more lax transportation requirements than New York ever would. These days, many don’t even need a permit at all.

Liberal New Yorkers don’t have to like the fact that it will become easier for their fellow citizens to bear arms. But instead of panicking about a shocking wave of violence that’s unlikely to happen, they can focus on drafting new rules that simultaneously respect two sets of limits: the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment and political preferences of New York residents.

Robert VerBruggen is a Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.