Supreme Court may soon make it easier to carry guns in six states
Elected Leaders of these liberal-leaning states and gun control advocates across the country are bracing for a ruling that extends the constitutional right to own guns beyond a person’s home to places of gathering places such as restaurants and shopping malls. And they fear that, depending on the scope of the court’s decision, related restrictions, including state bans on high-powered semi-automatic firearms, could also be at risk.
“Recent events have underscored the importance of this case. How the court interprets the Second Amendment is far from an abstract exercise,” said Eric Tirschwell of Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group.
“If the court forces New York to allow more people to carry guns in public, the result will be more people shot and more people killed, and that’s what the evidence and the social science tells you.”
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New York law requires a firearm owner to obtain a license to carry a handgun. To obtain the license, they must demonstrate to the local authorities a specific need to carry a weapon. Gun rights advocates say citizens shouldn’t have to justify the need to exercise their constitutional right hold out your arms. If New York’s “good cause” requirement is struck down, Second Amendment groups will closely monitor states with similar laws to ensure officials take steps to loosen permission rules.
“If they don’t,” said Matthew Larosière, policy director for the Firearms Policy Coalition. “We will definitely sue them.”
Larosière said he expects most jurisdictions to “see the writing on the wall and try to rewrite” the policies to align with the ruling. “Maybe there will be one or two states on the west coast that won’t want to do this and we will insist that they be taken to court,” he said. “It’s something we prefer to avoid because it’s better for people’s rights to be respected.”
Democratic leaders are preparing to defend their laws, which they believe are necessary to ensure public safety, especially in the most densely populated areas. What works for Wyoming doesn’t necessarily work for a state like New Jersey, acting state attorney general Matthew Platkin (D) said.
“This case is critical and worrying. It took years of effort to tie the hands of states that would pursue common sense and, in my view, constitutional gun safety measures,” he said. “Any effort to tie our hands makes it harder for us to keep our residents safe.”
To carry a handgun in New Jersey, applicants must demonstrate a “justifiable need” related to a specific threat. Permits for persons other than former or current law enforcement officials are rarely issued. The restriction is one of the reasons New Jersey has fewer gun deaths per capita per year than most other states, Platkin said, citing data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s unclear how the judges will rule, but two things are clear: A decision is expected no later than early July, and when the case was heard in November, a conservative-leaning court majority indicated they believed Americans were generally allowed to carry a handgun outside their homes and that New York law is too restrictive.
If they issue a broad ruling with implications for other states, Platkin said New Jersey would “take the most aggressive stance possible to defend our laws.”
Thousands of people have obtained permits to carry loaded and concealed weapons in public in DC
Since the Supreme Court in 2008 declared the right to own firearms, lower courts have generally sided with states that restrict the right to determine how the Second Amendment applies beyond people’s homes. Judges have rejected numerous requests from gun rights advocates to review those rulings.
Judge Antonin Scalia’s 2008 ruling made it clear that the Second Amendment is not unlimited and identified several legal restrictions, including prohibitions in “sensitive places” such as schools and government buildings. But recently, four conservative members of the court — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas—have expressed frustration in their writings at their colleagues’ apparent reluctance to re-enter the gun debate. During oral argument in November, the six conservative justices expressed varying levels of support for the two people challenging the New York law with backing from an affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
Twenty-five states do not require a license to carry a firearm in public, while several others require permits but do not ask applicants to substantiate their need for a weapon. There are five states with laws very similar to New York who would be most directly affected by a decision. Licensing requirements in two other states — Rhode Island and Delaware — are somewhat less stringent because they give state officials less discretion to reject applications, and experts said those states don’t would not necessarily be affected by the decision in the New York case.
Maryland’s permit system has been repeatedly challenged and upheld by state and federal courts. The regulations require applicants to show a “good and substantial reason” for carrying a firearm. Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) predicts state police will be inundated with new gun requests if judges strike down New York’s law.
“Lives will be lost if the norm is that people can carry guns in public,” Frosh said, adding that increased carry licenses “will make life for law enforcement much more difficult and we will put everyone in Maryland at greater risk.”
A legal challenge to the Maryland law is pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case. Judges have yet to decide whether to consider a separate challenge to the state’s ban on certain semi-automatic firearms. An appeals court upheld the restrictions, writing that the prohibited weapons are “weapons of war” not protected by the Second Amendment.
Until a court ruling in 2017, gun owners in the nation’s capital who wanted to carry guns in public also had to show a “good reason” before they could get a permit. In the months before the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit struck down a key provision of the city’s licensing law, there were only 123 active licenses and police of DC turned down about 77% of all applicants.
Since then, thousands of people have obtained permits, including more than 3,600 approvals in fiscal year 2021, according to police department data. The city turned down less than 10% of applicants, and more than half of those who applied during that time were non-DC residents.
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As gun crimes have increased across the country in recent years, law enforcement officials have focused on reducing the number of illegal weapons, but the potential proliferation of legal weapons will complicate their efforts, officials said.
In New York, law enforcement officials say they are preparing for the practical and legal challenges they expect if the Supreme Court weakens state licensing regulations in this case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. vs. Bruen.
“We will need to innovate and adapt to meet new public safety challenges the ruling may pose — and we will,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) wrote in a June 1 memo. to staff. “We now prepare to meet the moment and continue our fight against gun violence in a post-Brown world, together with our legislative and law enforcement partners, and the communities we serve.
Across New York, at least 65% of applicants were approved for an “unrestricted” carrier license in 2018 and 2019, according to a state analysis of court filings. But in New York, transportation permits are limited to a relatively small number of applicants and widely available only to active and retired law enforcement officers.
If the law changes, the district attorney’s office expects the defendants to try to have the pending weapons charges dismissed and the convictions overturned.
Steven Wu, who leads the DA’s appeals division and will lead a review of the decision, said the most pressing concern for a densely populated environment is that many more weapons could be “floating around town”.
A specific response will depend on the scope of the ruling, he said, but law enforcement and elected officials are already considering new regulations that could be passed pursuant to any ruling.
“We want to be ready,” Wu said.
Jacobs reported from New York.