Supreme Court issues decision making it easier to carry guns in public

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., is seen on September 16, 2019. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., is seen on September 16, 2019. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Thursday eased restrictions on carrying firearms in public, continuing a trend by the Court in recent years of weakening gun restrictions.

The Court’s conservative majority ruled 6-3 that New York could not prohibit gun owners from carrying their handgun outside their home based on the state’s determination that the citizen lacked sufficient cause to fear for their own safety.

The case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen was based in a lawsuit brought by two New York men who challenged a state law that requires them to have a “proper cause,” or special need, in order to carry a firearm outside their home. The ruling will have a ripple effect for other states with similar restrictions, such as California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.

In Thursday’s ruling, which was written by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court found that New York’s proper cause requirement was unconstitutional. The Court’s three liberal justices dissented from the ruling.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2021. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERSAssociate Justice Clarence Thomas poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2021. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2021. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

The 6-3 ruling comes just weeks after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, in which nineteen children and two teachers were slaughtered by a young man carrying a high-powered rifle in Uvalde, Texas.

The decision was expected since last fall’s arguments, when it became clear that all six conservative justices were skeptical of the state’s authority to determine who has a “proper cause” and who does not.

“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote in Thursday’s decision.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The plaintiffs in the New York case argued that the state law restricts their right to “bear arms.”

But supporters of the law have said that public safety, especially in densely populated urban areas, is also a mandate of the state government. They argue that states — rather than the Supreme Court — are better equipped to craft policies that balance gun rights with public safety concerns.

“The Anglo-American legal tradition has for centuries included limits on the public carrying of weapons, a tradition imported immediately into the colonies, and which existed to protect the public from harm,” wrote Jeremy Feigenbaum, the state solicitor of New Jersey, last year.

“The simple truth is that what works in a rural region in Alaska may not work in an urban center in New York or New Jersey, and state legislatures are far better situated to sift through local safety evidence and hear from local law enforcement than a single national court,” Feigenbaum argued.

But the lead attorney for the plaintiffs argued last fall that the court should shift the state’s power away from restricting the ability to carry firearms outside the home and toward limiting the exercise of that right in certain spaces such as schools, government buildings, sports arenas and major public events.

“It is the difference between regulating constitutionally protected activity and attempting to convert a fundamental constitutional right into a privilege that can only be enjoyed by those who can demonstrate to the satisfaction of a government official that they have an atypical need for the exercise of that right,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Clement told the justices.

The Court’s majority agreed with Clement.

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