WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home, saying it contradicts the Second Amendment.
The decision was only the court’s second major statement on the scope of the individual’s constitutional right to own and bear arms and its first on how the law applies to firearms in public places. The decision has far-reaching implications, especially in cities that had sought to curb gun crime by imposing restrictions on who can carry them.
The decision comes after a series of mass shootings reinvigorated the gun control debate. The Senate is set to pass a bipartisan package of gun safety measures, a major step toward ending a years-long deadlock in Congress.
The vote was 6 to 3, with the three liberal court members dissenting.
New York law requires people seeking a license to carry a handgun outside their home to show “lawful cause.” California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have similar laws, according to briefs filed in the case.
Two men who were denied the licenses they sought in New York have sued, claiming “the state makes it virtually impossible for the average law-abiding citizen to obtain a license.”
The men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, were cleared to carry guns for target practice and hunting away from populated areas, state officials told the Supreme Court, and Mr. Koch was cleared to carry a gun to and from work.
“Nash and Koch did not receive unlimited licenses because neither demonstrated a non-speculative need to carry a handgun virtually anywhere in public,” said Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General for New York, to the judges in a memorandum.
In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court recognized the individual right to keep firearms in the home for self-defense. Since then, he has remained almost silent on the scope of Second Amendment rights.
Indeed, for many years the court has dismissed countless appeals in Second Amendment cases. In the meantime, lower courts have generally upheld gun control laws.
But they were divided on the question posed by the New York case: whether states can prevent law-abiding citizens from carrying guns outside their homes in self-defense, unless they can convince the authorities that they have a good reason to do so.
Last year, for example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco upheld Hawaii’s law in a 7-4 vote.
“Our examination of over 700 years of English and American legal history reveals a strong theme: government has the power to regulate guns in the public square,” wrote Judge Jay S. Bybee, who was appointed by the President George W. Bush. the majority.
The federal appeals court in Chicago, on the other hand, struck down an Illinois law banning the carrying of weapons in public. And a federal appeals court in Washington struck down a restrictive District of Columbia law it said amounted to “a complete ban on the right of most DC residents to carry a gun.”
The court’s reluctance to hear Second Amendment cases has changed as its members have moved to the right in recent years. The three President Donald J. Trump appointees — Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — have all expressed support for gun rights.
And more conservative members of the Supreme Court have long lamented the court’s reluctance to explore the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment.
In 2017, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he had detected “a disturbing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disadvantaged right.”
“To those of us who work in marble halls, permanently guarded by a vigilant and dedicated police force, Second Amendment safeguards may seem antiquated and superfluous,” Judge Thomas wrote. “But the authors made a clear choice: they reserved for all Americans the right to bear arms in self-defense.”
In 2019, shortly after Judge Kavanaugh arrived, the court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York City gun bylaw that had allowed residents to keep guns in their homes. them to take them to one of the city’s seven shooting ranges. But he prohibited them from taking their weapons to second homes and shooting ranges outside the city, even when the weapons were unloaded and locked in containers separate from ammunition.
After the court granted a review, the city repealed the bylaw and the court ultimately dismissed the case as moot. In a concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that he was concerned that lower courts were not sensitive enough to Second Amendment rights. “The court should settle this matter soon,” he wrote.
In June, however, the court dismissed a dozen appeals in Second Amendment cases. Since only four votes are needed to grant a review, there is good reason to believe that the conservative wing of the court, which at the time had five members, was unsure of being able to secure the vote of the Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
The arrival of Judge Barrett changed that calculation. Six months after entering court, the court agreed to hear the case of New York, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, No. 20-843.