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Supreme Court strikes down N.Y. law that restricts concealed carrying of guns

Drew Angerer
Getty Images

Updated June 23, 2022 at 12:14 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion along ideological lines, ruled that New York's restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms in public violates the Second Amendment.

The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, invalidates the state's requirement for people to show "proper cause" to get public carry licenses.

Writing for the conservative majority, Justice Thomas said: "The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self-defense is no different. New York's proper-cause requirement 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."

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court's liberals, said: "In applying that approach to New York's law, the Court fails to correctly identify and analyze the relevant historical facts. Only by ignoring an abundance of historical evidence supporting regulations restricting the public carriage of firearms can the Court conclude that New York's law is not "consistent with the Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation."

In a concurring opinion, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said New York's restrictions had failed to stop the Buffalo mass shooting.

"[H]ow does the dissent account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo?" he wrote. "The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator."

Justices Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate concurring opinion

Justice Kavanaugh's opinion outlined what the court's ruling does and does not do.

"The Court's decision does not prohibit States from imposing licensing requirements for carrying a handgun for self-defense. In particular, the Court's decision does not affect the existing licensing regimes — known as "shall-issue" regimes — that are employed in 43 States," he wrote in the opinion in which he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts.

"The Court's decision addresses only the unusual discretionary licensing regimes, known as 'may-issue' regimes, that are employed by 6 States including New York."

Those jurisdictions include California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Some 80 million people live in those states. Indeed, New York, California and New Jersey alone account for one-fifth of the U.S. population. Indeed, in Los Angeles County alone, which has a population of more than 10 million people, estimates are that some 800,000 people will now get licenses to carry, as opposed to fewer than 500 today.

At the same time, 25 states currently allow people to carry guns without any permit. Most of those laws have been enacted in the last decade and some have passed in the last two years, including laws in Ohio and Georgia.

Kavanaugh wrote that New York's "outlier may-issue regime is constitutionally problematic because it grants open-ended discretion to licensing officials and authorizes licenses only for those applicants who can show some special need apart from self-defense."

And, he added: "Going forward ... the 43 States that employ objective shall-issue licensing regimes for carrying handguns for self-defense may continue to do so. Likewise, the 6 States including New York potentially affected by today's decision may continue to require licenses for carrying handguns for self-defense so long as those States employ objective licensing requirements like those used by the 43 shall issue States."

The decision was the court's first major gun ruling since 2008, when the justices declared for the first time that the Second Amendment right to bear arms guarantees individuals the right to keep a gun at home for self defense. It comes against the backdrop of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, and congressional attempts to find a compromise on legislation that could prevent such attacks.

Reaction to the ruling was swift.

President Biden said he was "deeply disappointed" in the ruling which he said "contradicts both common sense and the Constitution." Biden said he would continue to look for executive actions to take on gun violence, and urged states to continue to pass and enforce laws to protect against gun violence.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the opinion "shocking, absolutely shocking."
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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.