WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major expansion of gun rights, the Supreme Court said Thursday that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public.
The justices’ 6-3 decision follows a series of recent mass shootings and is expected to ultimately allow more people to legally carry guns on the streets of the nation’s largest cities — including New York, Los Angeles and Boston — and elsewhere. About a quarter of the U.S. population live in states expected to be affected by the ruling, the high court’s first major gun decision in more than a decade.
The ruling comes as Congress is actively working on gun legislation following recent mass shootings in Texas, New York and California.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the decision comes at a particularly painful time, when New York is still mourning the deaths of 10 people in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo. “This decision isn’t just reckless. It’s reprehensible. It’s not what New Yorkers want,” she said.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
In their decision, the justices struck down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a particular need for carrying a gun in order to get a license to carry one in public. The justices said the requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” the decision said. “This is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have similar laws likely to be challenged as a result of the ruling. The Biden administration had urged the justices to uphold New York’s law.
In a dissent joined by his liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll taken by gun violence. “Since the start of this year alone (2022), there have already been 277 reported mass shootings—an average of more than one per day,“ Breyer wrote.
Backers of New York’s law had argued that striking it down would ultimately lead to more guns on the streets and higher rates of violent crime. The decision comes at a time when gun violence already on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic has spiked anew.
In most of the country gun owners have little difficulty legally carrying their weapons in public. But that had been harder to do in New York and the handful of states with similar laws. New York’s law, which has been in place since 1913, says that to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license has to show “proper cause,” a specific need to carry the weapon.
The state issues unrestricted licenses where a person can carry their gun anywhere and restricted licenses that allow a person to carry the weapon but just for specific purposes such as hunting and target shooting or to and from their place of business.
Only about 200,000 concealed carry licenses have been issues in New York State— about 1% of the population.
The Supreme Court last issued a major gun decision in 2010. In that decision and a ruling from 2008 the justices established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defense. The question for the court this time was about carrying one outside the home.
The court has previously indicated there is no problem with restrictions on carrying guns in “sensitive places” including government buildings and schools. It has said the same about restricting felons and the mentally ill from carrying guns.
The challenge to the New York law was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest firearms advocacy organization, and two men seeking an unrestricted ability to carry guns outside their homes.
The court’s decision is somewhat out of step with public opinion. About half of voters in the 2020 presidential election said gun laws in the U.S. should be made more strict, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the electorate. An additional third said laws should be kept as they are, while only about 1 in 10 said gun laws should be less strict.
About 8 in 10 Democratic voters said gun laws should be made more strict, VoteCast showed. Among Republican voters, roughly half said laws should be kept as they are, while the remaining half closely divided between more and less strict.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement that the Supreme Court ruling will put New Yorkers at further risk of gun violence.
“We have been preparing for this decision and will continue to do everything possible to work with our federal, state, and local partners to protect our city. Those efforts will include a comprehensive review of our approach to defining ‘sensitive locations’ where carrying a gun is banned, and reviewing our application process to ensure that only those who are fully qualified can obtain a carry license,” he said. “We will work together to mitigate the risks this decision will create once it is implemented, as we cannot allow New York to become the Wild West.”
Associated Press reporter Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.