WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major expansion of gun rights after a series of mass shootings, the Supreme Court said Thursday that Americans have the right to carry guns in public for self-defense, a move likely to lead to more people who are legally armed. The decision came as Congress and states debate gun control legislation.
About a quarter of the US population lives in states expected to be affected by the ruling, which struck down a New York gun law. The High Court’s first major gun ruling in more than a decade split the court 6-3, with the court’s Tories in the majority and the Liberals dissenting.
Opposite the courthouse, Capitol lawmakers rushed to the passage of gun legislation prompted by the recent massacres in Texas and New York and California. The senators paved the way for the measuremodest in scope but still the most ambitious in decades.
Also on Thursday, underscoring the nation’s deep divisions on the issue, the sister of a 9-year-old girl killed in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, pleaded with state lawmakers. pass a gun law. The Republican-controlled legislature has removed gun restrictions over the past decade.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision. It “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should trouble us all deeply,” he said.
He urged states to pass new laws. “I call on Americans across the country to raise their voices on gun safety. Lives are at stake,” he said.
The decision invalidated a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a special need to carry a firearm in order to obtain a license to carry a weapon concealed in public. The justices said this requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun in self-defense outside his home.” This right is not a “second class right”, wrote Thomas. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual can exercise only after demonstrating to government officials a particular need.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all have similar laws to New York. These laws should be quickly challenged.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, DN.Y., said the decision came at a particularly painful time, with New York mourning the deaths of 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket shooting.. “This decision is not only reckless. It is reprehensible. This is not what New Yorkers want,” she said.
Gun control groups called the move a major setback. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice and Second Amendment expert, wrote on Twitter that the decision could be the “biggest extension of gun rights” by the Supreme Court in US history.
Republican lawmakers were among those who applauded the decision. Tom King, president of the plaintiff New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he was relieved.
“The legal, legal gun owner in New York State will no longer be persecuted by laws that have nothing to do with human safety and will do nothing to make people safer,” a he declared. “And maybe now we’ll start prosecuting the criminals and the perpetrators of these heinous acts.”
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 United States should be made tougher, according to AP VoteCast, a broad voter survey. A further third said laws should be kept as they are, while only around 1 in 10 said gun laws should be less stringent.
About 8 in 10 Democratic voters said gun laws should be made tougher, VoteCast showed. Among Republican voters, about half said the laws should be left as they are, while the other half were narrowly split between more and less stringent.
In a dissent joined by fellow Liberals, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll of gun violence.
Since the start of this year, “there have already been 277 reported mass shootings – an average of more than one per day,” Breyer wrote. He accused his colleagues in the majority of acting “disregarding the potentially life-threatening consequences” of their decision. He said the ruling would “severely” burden states’ efforts to pass laws “that limit, in various ways, who can buy, carry or use firearms of different types.”
Several other conservative justices who joined Thomas’ majority opinion also wrote separately to add their views.
Judge Samuel Alito criticized Breyer’s dissent, questioning the relevance of his discussion of mass shootings and other gun death statistics. Alito wrote that the court decided “nothing about who can legally own a gun or the requirements for buying a gun” and nothing “about what types of guns people can own”.
“Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear victimization if they are unable to protect themselves.” The Second Amendment, he said, “guarantees their right to do so.”
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted the limitations of the decision. States can still require people to get a license to carry a firearm, Kavanaugh wrote, and condition that license on “fingerprinting, background checks, mental health records checks, and training.” firearms and use of force laws, among other possible requirements.
Proponents of the New York law had argued that overturning it would lead to more guns on the streets and higher rates of violent crime. Gun violence, on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, has risen again. Arms purchases have also increased.
In most countries, gun owners have little difficulty legally carrying their guns in public. But that had been harder to do in New York and the handful of states with similar laws. New York law, in effect since 1913, states that to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license must show a “good cause,” a specific need to carry the weapon.
The state had issued unlimited licenses allowing a person to carry a gun anywhere and restricted licenses allowing a person to carry the gun but only for specific purposes such as hunting and target shooting or to and from his place of business.
The New York law challenge was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest gun advocacy organization, and two men seeking to be able to carry guns without restriction at outside their homes.
The Supreme Court last handed down a major gun ruling in 2010. In this decision and a 2008 decision judges have established a nationwide right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense. The question for the court this time was simply about carrying a gun outside the home. Thomas, who turned 74 on Thursday, wrote in his opinion that, “Nothing in the text of the Second Amendment draws a distinction between domicile and public with respect to the right to keep and bear arms.”
Associated Press reporters Mark Sherman, Hannah Fingerhut and Zeke Miller in Washington and Michael Hill in East Greenbush, New York, contributed to this report.