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Gun Control in New York

The Supreme Court has been very busy lately. Before overturning the monumental Roe v. Wade ruling, the Supreme Court decided in a 6-3 ruling struck down a New York handgun-licensing law that required New Yorkers who want to carry a handgun in public to show a special need to defend themselves.

This landmark decision comes as a surprise to many as only six weeks prior a gunman killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket, and less than a month after 21 people – 19 children and two teachers – were shot to death at an elementary school in Texas. As a result, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to address gun violence that amounts to the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades, which was signed by President Joe Biden.

The Supreme Courts ruling, which was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, is the is the court’s first significant decision on gun rights in over a decade.

The second amendment, which 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.”, has always been a controversial point of discussion in the United States.

With Thursdays ruling the court clarified that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to “keep and bear arms” needs to be interpreted broadly and give citizen the right to carry a handgun outside the home for self defense purposes. Justice Thomas argued that courts shall only uphold gun restrictions if there is a tradition of such regulation in U.S. history.

The state law at the heart of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen required anyone who wants to carry a concealed handgun outside the home to show “proper cause” for the license. New York courts interpreted that phrase to require applicants to show more than a general desire to protect themselves or their property. Instead, applicants must demonstrate a special need for self-defense – like for example, a pattern of physical threats.

This New York law has been upheld by lower courts against a challenge of two men whose applications for concealed-carry licenses were denied. As of last Thursday, the Supreme Court tossed out the law.

Lower courts have been using a two part test that to review challenges to gun control measures, which now has been rejected by the Supreme Court. That test looked first at whether a restriction regulates conduct protected by the original scope of the Second Amendment and then, if so, whether the restriction is fine-tuned to advance a significant public interest.

According to Justices Thomas Opinion, if “the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct,” the government has the burden to show that the regulation is consistent with the historical understanding of the Second Amendment.

Following this understanding, applying a far more stringent standard to the proper cause requirement, Justice Thomas argues that the challengers wish to carry a handgun in public for self-defense purposes aligned with the conduct protected by the Second Amendment.

He clarifies that the amendment does not distinguish between the right to bear arms at home or in public places and that “bearing” much rather applies to the right to carry a gun outside the home.

After reviewing historical sources on gun rights, Justice Thomas argued, that there was no such tradition of a broad prohibition on carrying commonly used guns in public for self-defense. In fact, he concluded that , there is “no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”

In a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh sought to portray the scope of Thursday’s decision as limited. The ruling will not bar states from imposing any licensing requirements, Kavanaugh contended. There are 43 states, he noted, that use licensing schemes that include requirements such as background checks, firearms training, a check of mental health records, and fingerprinting. Such schemes are objective, Kavanaugh explained, rather than granting “open-ended discretion to licensing officials” and requiring “a showing of some special need apart from self-defense.”

In a statement released by the White House, President Joe Biden said that he was “deeply disappointed” by Thursday’s ruling, which he described as contrary to “both commonsense and the Constitution.” Biden stressed that the Second Amendment is not absolute. “For centuries,” he said, “states have regulated who may purchase or possess weapons, the types of weapons they may use, and the places they may carry those weapons. And the courts have upheld these regulations.”

Now, the only hope seems to be on the bipartisan gun bill agreement.

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