The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state law requiring applicants for a license to carry a gun outside of their homes to have a “proper cause” to do so, saying it violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The 6-3 ruling in the case is a major victory for gun rights advocates who had challenged New York’s restrictive law, which makes it a crime to carry a concealed firearm without a license.
It also represents the Supreme Court’s biggest expansion of gun rights in more than a decade — and casts doubt on laws in eight other states and the District of Columbia that restrict concealed-carry permits in ways similar to New York.
The Supreme Court’s six conservative justices voted to invalidate the law, which has been in existence since 1911. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the case, known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen.
The court’s three liberals voted to uphold the law. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent to the ruling.
A U.S. Supreme Court police officer stands past gun-rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
In his majority opinion, Thomas wrote that New York’s law violated the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment — which says citizens have a right to equal protection under the law — because it “prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms” as authorized by the Second Amendment.
The ruling comes weeks after mass shootings at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, and another in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, reignited a national debate about U.S. gun laws.
Democratic elected officials quickly condemned Thursday’s decision, which they said will imperil public safety.
President Joe Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling, which he argued, “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all.”
Citing the “horrific attacks in Buffalo and Uvalde,” Biden urged states to pass “commonsense” gun regulation “to make their citizens and communities safer from gun violence.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “This decision isn’t just reckless, it’s reprehensible.”
Hochul said that because “the federal government will not have sweeping laws to protect us … our states and our governors have a moral responsibility to do what we can and have laws that protect our citizens because of what is going on — the insanity of the gun culture that has possessed everyone all the way up to the Supreme Court.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said, “This decision has made every single one of us less safe from gun violence.”
The case was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and two of its members, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, whose applications for concealed-carry handgun licenses for self-defense purposes were rejected.
New York Supreme Court Justice Richard McNally ruled that neither man had shown proper cause to carry guns in public because they failed to demonstrate that they had a special need for self-protection.
The plaintiffs then challenged that denial in a federal court in New York. They argued that the state law governing concealed-carry licenses, which allows them only for applicants with “good moral character” who have “proper cause” to carry guns outside the home, violates the Second Amendment.
After a federal judge in New York dismissed the case, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court then took the case.
Thomas, in his majority opinion, wrote that New York’s proper-cause requirement, as it has been interpreted by state courts, was inconsistent with the “Nation’s history of firearm regulation.”
“A State may not prevent law-abiding citizens from publicly carrying handguns because they have not demonstrated a special need for self-defense,” Thomas wrote.
But Breyer, in his dissent, wrote, “Only by ignoring an abundance of historical evidence supporting regulations restricting the public carriage of firearms can the Court conclude that New York’s law is not ‘consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
Breyer also wrote, “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.”
– Additional reporting by CNBC’s Amanda Macias