The Supreme Court Just Expanded Gun Rights. What to Know

TThe Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution allows for the carrying of a firearm for self defense outside the home. Experts believe this will allow millions more Americans to have guns in public.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court voted to repeal a New York gun-control law dating back to 100 years. This required that people prove they had a “special need” for protection in order to allow them to have concealed weapons outside their homes. In his majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment by “preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs” from exercising their right to “keep and bear arms in public for self-defense” established by the Second Amendment. The court’s three liberal justices dissented.

This is the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on a gun-rights case since its major decisions in 2008 and 2010 stating that the Second Amendment protects a private citizen’s right to keep a firearm in the home for “traditionally lawful purposes,” including self-defense. It was decided on Thursday that all private citizens are allowed to possess a firearm within their own homes. In his opinion, Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment does not distinguish between the home and public areas in regards to the “right to keep and bear arms.”

This is the biggest Second Amendment ruling in over a decade. It’s a win for gun rights advocates. And it’s a blow for the gun control movement. After a string of mass shootings, gun reform has been thrust back at the forefront of the national discussion. Congress is set to move a bipartisan gun security bill that provides incentives to states to adopt red-flag laws to allow the authorities to temporarily take guns from persons deemed to be dangerous. (The court’s decision would not impact those policies.)

It was the following: New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, was brought by two men in New York—with the backing by the NRA-affiliated New York State Rifle & Pistol Association—after they were denied requests for permits to carry firearms outside their home because the licensing officer determined they hadn’t demonstrated they needed the weapons for self-defense. They argued that this standard has become impossible to meet and gives too many discretionary powers to licensing officers who can be either local judges, or officers of law enforcement.

Along with New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have similar “may-issue” concealed-carry laws, which only grant permits to applicants who can prove they have a sufficient reason for wanting one. In April 2021, roughly 90 million Americans lived in states that have “may-issue” laws, according to Duke Law School professor Joseph Blocher.

Nearly all other states have more permissive “shall-issue” laws, which generally allow people to get a concealed-carry license as long as they don’t fall into a legally non-permitted category, such as having a felony conviction. On Thursday, Thomas wrote that while New York’s law should be struck down, “shall-issue” laws can stand, since they “do not grant open-ended discretion to licensing officials and do not require a showing of some special need apart from self-defense.”

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the decision does not properly discuss “the nature of severity of” gun violence, and evoked the mass shootings America has experienced in recent years, including the recent shootings in Buffalo, New York, that left ten dead at the hands of an alleged white supremacist, and in Ulvalde, Texas, that killed 21 people including 19 children. Breyer also cited an increase in gun violence over the past few years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the firearm homicides rate increased by 35% in the period 2019-2020. “The dangers posed by firearms can take many forms,” Breyer wrote. “And mass shootings are just one part of the problem. Easy access to firearms can also make many other aspects of American life more dangerous.”

New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul said Thursday that it “is outrageous that at a moment of national reckoning on gun violence, the Supreme Court has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons.”

“In response to this ruling, we are closely reviewing our options – including calling a special session of the legislature,” she continued.

Some experts and gun control supporters argue that the move could prove dangerous. John Donohue, a Stanford Law School professor and author of a 2017 analysis of crime data at the state level found that there was an 13% to 15% rise in violence crimes in states after passing a concealed-handgun right-to-carry law. In a statement to TIME, Donohue said he finds it “mind-boggling that the court would go down the path that it has,” predicting that “as various gun safety measures fall in the wake of this profoundly unwise decision, crime will rise and Americans will clearly be less safe from firearm violence.”

But gun rights advocates say the decision is the correct interpretation of the Constitution and point out that it allows “shall-issue” laws, which 43 states have already adopted, to stand. Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said in a statement to TIME that while “this decision will be criticized by many as a ‘radical’ expansion of gun rights, it is actually a modest decision that only strikes down discretionary licensing laws that limit issuing carry permits to those who can demonstrate specific threats against them.”

“The Second Amendment protects the natural right to self-defense,” he said. “And at the very least, that means that Americans don’t have to convince a bureaucrat that they are sufficiently threatened to be allowed to bear arms.”

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