Supreme Court Scraps One of America's Toughest Gun Laws

In a 6-3 decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law requiring that individuals show "proper cause" in order to get a license to carry a firearm outside a home.

The 100-year-old law stemming from New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. et al v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, et. al., was challenged by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and gun owners Brandon Koch and Robert Nash.

The decision comes at a time of intensified national debate over whether to tighten gun laws after a series of mass shootings, most recently in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

Koch and Nash argued that as "law-abiding New York residents who both applied for unrestricted licenses to carry a handgun in public based on their generalized interest in self-defense," they were denied unrestricted gun licenses by the state due to allegedly failing to satisfy "proper cause" requirements.

About 25 percent of Americans could be impacted by the decision, including those in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, all of which have similar laws that could be reversed at the federal level, Hannah Shearer, litigation director at the Giffords Law Center, told Newsweek.

SCOTUS NY Gun Ruling
In a 6-3 decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law requiring that individuals show "proper cause" in order to get a license to carry a firearm outside a home. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Shearer said the decision "is likely to have a ripple effect" across the United States.

"A state's right to devise solutions to social problems, including gun violence, is a sacred role of government, and many states have similar such laws—including Illinois and DC—that are also at risk," Max Markham, legal director at March For Our Lives, previously told Newsweek.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion.

"We hold that when the Second Amendment's plain text covers an individual's conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct," Thomas wrote. "To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation."

Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the case comes down to the Second Amendment.

"All that we decide in this case is that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding people to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense and that the Sullivan Law, which makes that virtually impossible for most New Yorkers, is unconstitutional," Alito wrote.

In his dissent Justice Stephen Breyer said New York's Legislature originally "adopted a reasonable licensing law" for citizens to conceal-carry firearms that kept people "safe."

The Supreme Court "restricts the ability of legislatures" to decide what's best for their citizens, he added, saying justices are not fully privy to "how New York's law is administered in practice, how much discretion licensing officers in New York possess, or whether the proper cause standard differs across counties."

"I cannot agree with the Court's decision to strike New York's law down without allowing for discovery or the development of any evidentiary record, without considering the State's compelling interest in preventing gun violence and protecting the safety of its citizens, and without considering the potentially deadly consequences of its decision," Breyer wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Thomas, Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett sided to strike down the law, while Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul expressed dismay following the recent mass shootings.

"It is outrageous that at a moment of national reckoning on gun violence, the Supreme Court has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons," Hochul tweeted.

She added that she "will continue to do anything in my power" to reduce gun violence, saying one option could potentially include calling a special session in the state Legislature.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the decision will cause city, state and federal officials to "protect our city." He said that includes defining "sensitive locations" where carrying firearms is banned, in addition to reviewing license applications.

"We will work together to mitigate the risks this decision will create once it is implemented, as we cannot allow New York to become the Wild West," Adams said. "One thing is certain: We will do whatever is in our power, using every resource available to ensure that the gains we've seen during this administration are not undone, to make certain New Yorkers are not put in further danger of gun violence. This decision may have opened an additional river feeding the sea of gun violence, but we will do everything we can to dam it."

President Joe Biden also issued a statement, saying he was "disappointed" with a ruling that overturns a law that had been in effect since 1911.

"More than a century later, the United States Supreme Court has chosen to strike down New York's long-established authority to protect its citizens," Biden said. "This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all."

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city's business leaders and largest employers, called the decision "a major setback."

"The business community will support state legislation to counter the impact of this decision and restore greater control over gun ownership and carrying a concealed weapon," Wylde said in a statement.

An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 adults conducted between June 18 and 21 asked respondents about the New York law. About 36 percent of respondents said states may restrict but not outright ban the carrying of guns outside the home, while 24 percent of respondents said states may not place any restrictions on carrying guns outside the home.

Of those polled, about 27 percent said it was "likely" that the Supreme Court would rule that a state law restricting the carrying of guns outside the home violates the Second Amendment.

Nearly half of respondents said gun laws should be decided on a national level, while 33 percent said states should have the final say. Democrats, followed by independents and then Republicans, were most in favor of gun laws being decided at the national level.

Update 6/23/22, 1:30 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.