On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying a handgun in public, ruling that Americans have a broad right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
The 6-3 ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, held that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to carry a handgun to protect themselves outside the home. Moving forward, Thomas wrote, courts should uphold firearms restrictions only if such regulation has a historical basis, such as prohibiting guns in schools or government buildings.
About the Case
NY State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen concerned a New York state law passed in 1911 that required individuals to show “proper cause” to obtain a concealed carry license. As interpreted by NY Courts, this meant showing more than a general desire to protect their person or property and instead proving a special need for self-defense, such as being a messenger carrying cash or having received physical threats.
In the lawsuit brought by two applicants who were denied unrestricted licenses to carry a handgun in public, both the District Court and the Court of Appeals upheld the state law.
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But in its landmark decision, the Supreme Court tossed out the law, holding that “New York’s proper cause requirement violated the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms in public for self-defense.”
The Supreme Court also rejected a two-part test used by Appellate Courts to evaluate the constitutionality of a gun-control law. Using the test, Courts evaluate first whether a firearm restriction regulates conduct protected by the Second Amendment and, if so, whether the restriction sufficiently advances a significant public interest. Instead, Thomas wrote, in matters where the plain text of the Second Amendment “covers an individual’s conduct,” it becomes the state’s burden to show the restriction is “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition.”
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By raising the threshold governments must overcome in defending their firearm restriction laws, the landmark ruling could have far-reaching implications that extend even beyond the states (which include New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and California) and assortment of cities that currently impose restrictions like New York’s law.
Read more about the landmark ruling here.