The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state gun control law, setting a major precedent that expands the reach of the Second Amendment and puts existing firearm restrictions in other states into immediate legal jeopardy.
At issue in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen was a 1913 New York law that requires people to get licenses if they want to take guns outside of their homes. In order to get one of those licenses, a gun owner must show they actually need the weapon for self-defense.
In a 6-to-3 ruling, with Republican-appointed justices in the majority and Democratic-appointed justices dissenting, the court determined that New York’s licensing requirement violates the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a “right to keep and bear arms.”
Back in 2008, the court had said that the Second Amendment protects the right to own a gun, while allowing for certain restrictions on firearms use. With this new ruling, the court has effectively said the Second Amendment also protects the right to carry that gun in public, which means it will be more difficult to defend restrictions in court.
The lead opinion, by Justice Clarence Thomas, focuses on “may issue” laws like New York’s ― that is, laws where authorities have discretion over whether to issue permits. In a concurrence, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh make clear the ruling does not cover “shall issue” laws in other states, where authorities lack such discretion.
But the states that have “may issue” systems include California and New Jersey, and together account for about one-fourth of the U.S. population.
And it’s not clear how much the distinction will ultimately matter.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing in a dissent, warned that the lines separating “may issue” and “shall issue” systems aren’t always so clear, so that even some of the “shall issue” regulations could face successful challenges.