The Supreme Court Has Ruled That New York’s Concealed-Carry Law Is Unconstitutional

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Today, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn New York state’s harsh concealed-carry gun permitting system on constitutional grounds.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has strengthened Second Amendment protections, and experts believe the court’s 6-3 conservative supermajority might assist enhance gun ownership protections. The Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment protects “the individual right to keep and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” and in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) that this right “is fully applicable to the States.”

The decision comes amid increased crime rates, activist calls to defund police forces, and a push by the Biden administration to improve gun control regulations. A gun restriction package launched in the aftermath of a string of high-profile mass killings is making its way through Congress.

In order to get a license to carry a concealed weapon in public, the Empire State’s gun permit statute, like laws in seven other states, generally requires an applicant to demonstrate “due cause.”

Possession of a firearm without a license is a crime in New York, whether inside or outside the home. According to state law, an individual who wishes to carry a firearm outside his home may get an unrestricted permission to “have and carry” a concealed “pistol or revolver” if he can demonstrate that “proper cause exists.” According to a 1980 judgement by the Supreme Court of New York in Klenosky v. New York City Police Department, an applicant meets the “proper cause” criteria only if he can “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the broader community.”

The court was asked to decide whether the state’s denial of the petitioners individuals’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the United States Constitution.

Oral arguments were heard Nov. 3 in the matter of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, court file 20-843, an appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Respondent Kevin Bruen is the Head of the department of the New York State Police. The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, founded in 1871, promotes itself as “the state’s largest and nation’s oldest guns advocacy organization,” as well as the official National Rifle Association (NRA) affiliated state association in New York.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the new opinion (pdf), which declared that New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.

“Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution,” Thomas said, “we find that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.”

“In keeping with Heller, we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command,’ ” Thomas stated, paraphrasing Konigsberg v. State Bar of California (1961).

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined in a dissenting opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer.

“In 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms. Since the start of this year (2022), there have been 277 reported mass shootings—an average of more than one per day. Gun violence has now surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds. The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so.”

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