The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state law that banned people from carrying handguns outside their homes—a major victory for gun rights advocates that could reshape state laws throughout the country.
As the nation considers new gun restrictions in the wake of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, this week’s ruling could hinder city and state efforts to curb gun violence.
New York’s law has been on the books for more than a century. This decision could have implications for similar laws in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. A federal appeals court struck down a similar law in Illinois in 2012 that banned carrying handguns in public. Gun rights advocates may use this week’s ruling as an impetus to challenge other gun restrictions in the states.
The six conservative justices on the high court ruled the Empire State law is too restrictive and violates the Second Amendment. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said the U.S. Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
In his dissent, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the majority’s decision “burdens” states’ ability to address gun violence “by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.”
Gun safety advocates lambasted the court’s decision, saying it endangers communities struggling with gun violence. Esther Sanchez-Gomez, senior litigation attorney for Giffords, a gun safety organization named after former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, called the ruling “extreme” and said it will usher in a new era of litigation around gun laws.
“Today’s decision all but ensures that the gun lobby will come after many other evidence-backed gun safety laws across the country,” she said in a statement.
The ruling could motivate more people to act as vigilantes and encourage political violence, the Giffords organization argued. The group has long been concerned about laws in 25 states that allow people to carry firearms in public without a permit.
This is the first major ruling on gun laws at the Supreme Court since 2008, when it ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that individuals have the right to keep firearms in their homes.
However, in his majority opinion, then-Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized that the Constitution allows the government to regulate handguns, and that it may enact “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” as well as bans on carrying weapons in “sensitive places,” such as schools.
Since that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has generally deferred to lower courts on gun-related cases. This week’s ruling may set a new precedent to overturn other state gun laws.
The U.S. Senate is likely to pass bipartisan legislation in the coming week that would expand background checks for gun purchases by adults under 21 and would expand a law that prevents domestic abusers from owning a gun. The measure also would encourage states to adopt red flag laws, which allow law enforcement and, depending on the state, families and school officials to petition courts to remove weapons from people who may be a harm to themselves or others.
While the legislation would fall well short of President Joe Biden’s gun safety agenda, it would be the most significant federal gun legislation in three decades.