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Supreme Court Strikes Down New York Law Limiting Guns In Public

The Supreme Court ruled Americans have a broad ability to defend themselves in public, overturning a New York law putting clear restrictions on carrying guns outside the home and sparking a scramble in other states with similar s.

The decision is anticipated to spark a flood of lawsuits attempting to unwind existing state and federal constraints, forcing five states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — to reinterpret their laws.

Why Has This Decision Been Made?

The decision comes in the aftermath of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. The same day, the Senate passed gun control legislation to improve background investigations for prospective gun buyers aged 18 to 21. The decision offers additional incentives for states to implement so-called ‘red-flag laws’ and stiffen a federal ban on domestic abusers purchasing firearms. It was the most significant action on gun regulation taken by Congress in nearly thirty years.

The decision, by a vote of 6-to-3, demonstrated the power of the six conservative justices, all of whom voted to overturn the New York law, in setting the national agenda on social issues.  The three liberal judges on the court disented. 

What Does The Second Amendment Stipulate?

The Second Amendment protects "an individual's right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas for the majority. Justice Thomas wrote that states could continue prohibiting guns in certain places, such as schools and government buildings, but the ruling left the question of where such bans might be permitted. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul promised to revisit the issue in the Legislature as soon as next month to enact new legislation allowing the state to keep existing regulations. Democratic lawmakers in Maryland have also indicated they will rewrite legislation to withstand anticipated legal challenges.

"We already have a major gun violence crisis," Ms. Hochul stated. "There's no need to add more fuel to the fire."

"This is not how the Sixth Amendment works regarding a defendant's privilege to confront witnesses against him… That is not how the First Amendment operates when speaking about unpopular speech or religious freedom," he added. “And it is not how the Second Amendment works when carrying a firearm in public for self-defense."

"The government must prove that the legislation is continuous with this nation's historical tradition of gun legislation," the majority opinion stated. Justice Thomas disregarded the standard of most lower courts, considering if the law accelerated a critical government interest in favor of placing a strong emphasis on history.

He acknowledged the court's new requirement for a historical investigation would not always be straightforward.

The case involved so-called ‘may-issue legislation’, which gives government officials significant latitude in issuing gun permits.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, attended by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., wrote in a concurring opinion that "shall issue" regulations used objective standards and stayed presumptively constitutional. "Fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health data check, and coaching in firearms dealing and laws regarding the use of coercion," he wrote, was generally permissible in states.

President Biden criticized the decision, calling himself "deeply disappointed." He said, "it contradicts both good judgment and the Constitution and should profoundly trouble all of us."

What Did Gun Rights Activists Say?

On Thursday, gun rights activists applauded the judgment. "The court has made clear that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not limited to the home," said Larry Keane, a top official with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's leading trade organization. "The responsibility is on the government to rationalize restrictions, not on the person to justify a need to use their rights to the government."

Shares of firearms manufacturers increased on Wall Street, with Smith & Wesson up more than 9%.

According to Jonathan Lowy, a lawyer at Brady, a gun control organization, the choice was a grave mistake. "With a stroke of the pen," he said, "the Supreme Court today invented a presumed right to carry loaded firearms nearly anywhere — to shoot and murder other people."

The case involved a lawsuit brought by two men who were denied licenses in New York, claiming "the state makes it nearly impossible for the normal law-abiding civilian to get a license."

Robert Nash and Brandon Koch were permitted to carry firearms away from populated areas for target shooting and hunting.

Citizens might not be obligated to explain to the government why they desire to practice a constitutional right, wrote Justice Thomas. "We are aware of no other constitutional right that may be exercised only after proving to public officials some special need," he wrote. What the future reserves for gun rights is uncertain, however, what is clear is that what occurred in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas is a tragedy, leaving many to wonder if it could have been avoided.