The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York law severely restricting the right to carry a concealed handgun.
In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s conservatives ruled that the New York law was a violation of the Second Amendment’s right of individuals to keep and bear arms outside of their homes.
It is the first major firearms ruling in more than a decade.
The court held that New York’s “proper-cause” requirement to obtain a concealed-carry license was a violation of the Constitution 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.
Thomas wrote in his introduction that the court is holding “that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.
The New York “proper cause” requirement violates the Constitution, Thomas noted, because it only allows public-carry licenses when an applicant shows a special need for self-defense.
The court rejected the “two-part” approach used by the courts of appeals in Second Amendment cases.
“In keeping with Heller,” Thomas noted, “we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct.”
The government has to show, Thomas added, that a gun regulation “is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
This test “accords with how we protect other constitutional rights,” he noted further.
“The Thomas opinion indicates that it is ‘settled’ that places like polling places and courthouses ‘were “sensitive places” where arms carrying could be prohibited consistent with the Second Amendment.'” the SCOTUS Blog noted. “And courts can analogize to simliar sensitive places, he adds.”
“On the other hand, Thomas adds, ‘expanding the category of “sensitive places” simply to all places of public congregation that are not isolated from law enforcement defines the category of “sensitive places” far too broadly,'” the blog continued.
In this case, Thomas went on to explain, nothing in the Second Amendment distinguishes between home and public “with respect to the right to keep and bear arms.”
“None of the historical limitations on the right to bear arms approach New York’s proper-cause requirement because none operated to prevent law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from carrying arms in public for that purpose,” Thomas continued.
In a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that today’s ruling “does not prohibit States from imposing licensing requirements for carrying a handgun for self-defense.” “In particular,” he says, “the Court’s decision does not affect the existing licensing regimes–known as ‘shall-issue’ regimes– that are employed in 43 states.”
In 2008, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms at home for self-defense.
After the ruling, however, to the frustration of gun rights advocates, lower courts relied upon language in the opinion to uphold many gun regulations.
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” then-Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in the Heller case.