Gun Control Live Updates: Supreme Court Ruling and Senate Vote

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Americans have a broad right to arm themselves in public, overturning a New York law that imposed strict restrictions on carrying guns outdoors and sparked a struggle in other states with similar restrictions.

The decision is expected to spark a wave of lawsuits to relax existing state and federal restrictions and will force five states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, where a quarter of all Americans live — to rewrite their laws.

The ruling follows mass shootings last month in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, and was pronounced a day as the Senate neared approval of a series of modest gun control measures, a major step toward ending a years-long stalemate in Congress. .

The 6-to-3 decision again illustrated the power of the six conservative judges, who all voted to repeal the New York law, in setting the national agenda for social issues. The three liberal members of the court disagreed.

The Second Amendment, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, protects “a person’s right to carry a gun outdoors for self-defense.” States can continue to ban guns in some locations, such as schools and government offices, Judge Thomas wrote, but the ruling left open where exactly such bans might be allowed.

Shortly after the ruling was issued, New York Governor Kathy Hochul promised to reconvene the legislature next month to enact new measures that would allow the state to enforce existing regulations. Democratic lawmakers in Maryland also suggested they rewrite the legislation to survive the anticipated legal challenges.

“We are already dealing with a major crisis around gun violence,” Ms Hochul said. “We don’t need to add more fuel to this fire.”

The case regarding the so-called may enact laws, which give government officials considerable discretion over the issuing of firearms licenses.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, along with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., wrote in a unanimous opinion, one that seemed to limit the reach of majority opinion, that “will enact” laws used objective criteria and presumably remained constitutional. States were generally free, he wrote, to require “fingerprints, background checks, mental health checks, and training in firearms handling and laws governing the use of force.”

Judge Kavanaugh also cited extensively the court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which appeared to endorse other restrictions.

President Biden denounced the ruling, describing himself as “deeply disappointed”. It “is against both common sense and the Constitution and would be of great concern to all of us,” he added.

Gun rights advocates welcomed the decision on Thursday. “The court has made it clear that the Second Amendment right to bear guns is not limited to the home,” said Larry Keane, a top official at the gun industry’s largest trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “That the burden is on the government to justify restrictions, not on the individual to justify to the government that they have to exercise their rights.”

Share prices of firearms makers rose on Wall Street, with Smith & Wesson climbing more than 9 percent.

Jonathan Lowy, an attorney with Brady, a gun control group, said the decision was a serious misstep. “In a stroke of the pen,” he said in a statement, “the Supreme Court today invented a so-called right to carry loaded guns, virtually anywhere — to potentially shoot and kill other people.”

The case revolved around a lawsuit brought by two men who were denied the permits they were seeking in New York, saying that “the state makes it virtually impossible for ordinary law-abiding citizens to obtain a permit.”

The men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, were authorized to carry guns for target practice and hunting outside populated areas, state officials told the Supreme Court, and Mr Koch was allowed to carry a gun to and from work.

Judge Thomas wrote that citizens may not be required to explain to the government why they were trying to exercise a constitutional right.

“We know of no other constitutional right that a person may exercise only after demonstrating a special need to government officials,” he wrote.

“That’s not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular expression or the free exercise of religion,” he added. “It’s not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it’s not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to wearing it in public for self-defense.

Majority opinion announced a general standard by which courts must now assess restrictions on gun rights, one that is based on historical assessments: “The government must demonstrate that the ordinance is consistent with this country’s historic tradition of firearms regulation.”

By focusing heavily on history, Judge Thomas rejected the standard used by most lower courts, which considered whether the law had served an important government interest.

He acknowledged that the historical investigation that the court is now demanding will not always be easy.

Judge Thomas wrote that states were free to ban guns in sensitive areas, giving a few examples: schools, government offices, legislative assemblies, polling stations, and courthouses. But he cautioned that “simply extending the category of ‘sensitive places’ to all public gathering places that are not isolated from law enforcement defines the category of ‘sensitive places’ far too broadly.”

Contrastingly, Judge Stephen G. Breyer said majority guidance was inadequate, making the scope of the court’s ruling unclear.

“What about subways, nightclubs, cinemas and sports stadiums?” Justice Breyer wrote. “The court says nothing.”

Judge Breyer’s dissent, along with Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, focused on the deadly toll of gun violence.

“In 2020,” he wrote, “45,222 Americans were killed by firearms. Since the beginning of this year, 277 mass shootings have been reported, averaging more than one per day. Violence from firearms is now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, surpassed by motor vehicle accidents.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. responded. on the dissenting opinion.

“It is difficult to see what legitimate purpose can be served by most of the dissident’s long introductory portion,” he wrote. “For example, why does the dissident find it relevant to talk about the mass shootings that have taken place in recent years? Do the dissidents think that laws like New York’s prevent or deter such atrocities?

“Will a person determined to commit mass shootings be stopped if he knows it is illegal to carry a gun outdoors?” Judge Alito asked. “And how does the disagreement explain the fact that one of the mass shootings at the top of the list happened in Buffalo? Of course, the New York law at issue in this case did not stop that perpetrator.”

Judge Breyer questioned the majority’s method of assessing the constitutionality of gun control laws in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, No. 20-843.

“The court’s almost exclusive reliance on history is not only unnecessary, it is highly impractical,” he wrote. “It imposes a task on the lower courts that judges cannot easily accomplish.”

Judges, he wrote, are not historians. “Legal experts typically have little experience in answering contentious historical questions or applying those answers to solve contemporary problems,” he wrote, adding: “Laws pertaining to repeating crossbows, launchers, dirks, daggers , strands, still veins and other ancient weapons will do little to help courts confronted with modern problems.”

In the Heller decision, the Supreme Court recognized an individual right to keep weapons in the home for self-defense. Since then, it has been almost silent about the scope of Second Amendment rights.

Indeed, the court has dismissed numerous appeals in Second Amendment cases for years. Meanwhile, lower courts generally enforced gun control laws.

The court’s reluctance to hear Second Amendment cases changed as membership shifted to the right in recent years. President Donald J. Trump’s three appointees — Justices Kavanaugh, Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Comey Barrett — have all expressed support for gun rights.

And the most conservative members of the Supreme Court have long lamented the court’s reluctance to examine the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment.

In 2017, Judge Thomas wrote that he had “discovered a troubling trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disapproved right.”

“To those of us who work in marble halls, constantly guarded by a vigilant and dedicated police force, the Second Amendment guarantees may seem outdated and redundant,” Judge Thomas wrote. “But the drafters made a clear choice: They kept all Americans the right to bear arms in self-defense.”

Glenn Thrush reporting contributed.

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