Supreme Court affirms right of Americans to arm themselves away from home

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again reaffirmed the constitutional right of Americans to arm themselves – striking down a New York law Thursday that essentially forced handgun license applicants to beg the state for permission.

The 6-3 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen overturned a law that required “anyone who wants to carry a concealed handgun outside the home to show ‘proper cause’ for the license,” writes SCOTUSblog. “New York courts interpreted that phrase to require applicants to show more than a general desire to protect themselves or their property.

“Instead, applicants [needed to] demonstrate a special need for self-defense – for example, a pattern of physical threats. Several other states, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, impose similar restrictions, as do many cities.”

Thursday’s ruling striking such laws down was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, with a dissent by liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

The landmark ruling builds significantly on 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, and 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago. In Heller, the court struck down a D.C. handgun ban, even in the home, that also required legal rifles and shotguns to be unloaded and disassembled, or trigger-locked.

In striking down the D.C. home-handgun ban in Heller, the court’s 5-4 majority wrote that, “Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition – in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute – would fail constitutional muster.

“Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.”

The ruling Thursday in Bruen makes clear that the right to self-defense also follows Americans out the door when they leave home, subject to reasonable bans in certain public places. The court now holds, Thomas writes, “consistent with Heller and McDonald, that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”

During oral arguments in Bruen last November, Justice Samuel Alito joined other concerned justices in noting that the New York law requiring a specific threat to get a gun license would deny firearms to law-abiding workers who, for instance, use public transportation at night and then walk home “through a high-crime area.” The New York law, justices were assured, would not guarantee such people the right to a gun.

In Thursday’s ruling finding such a law unconstitutional, Thomas wrote for the court:

“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”

Thursday’s ruling does not impact gun licensing requirements in 43 states commonly known as “shall issue” laws. Under such laws, qualified applicants cannot be refused a gun license by whim or regulation of government officials.

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