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High Court Signals It Will Void New York Gun-Carrying Limits (1)

Nov. 3, 2021, 5:31 PM

U.S. Supreme Court justices signaled they are poised to rule that most people have a constitutional right to carry a handgun outside the home, casting doubt on a New York law that requires a special justification to get a permit.

Hearing arguments in Washington Wednesday, the court’s six conservatives indicated they will back a National Rifle Association affiliate and two people who say the state is violating their Second Amendment rights. The state issues concealed-carry licenses only to those who can show a particular need for protection.

“Why isn’t it good enough to say I live in a violent area, and I want to be able to defend myself?” asked Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

A broad ruling could mean more guns in public places in some of the most populous U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles. New York is one of about seven states -- including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey -- with so-called “may issue” laws that gun-rights advocates say prevent most people from getting a carry license. Illinois and the District of Columbia also had sharp restrictions before their laws were invalidated in court.

Two other conservatives suggested they would leave room for states to bar guns from “sensitive places.” Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that could include Times Square on New Year’s Eve while Chief Justice John Roberts indicated he would allow gun bans at sports stadiums.

But Roberts pushed back when New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood said that unrestricted carry licenses were “much more readily available” in rural parts of the state.

Muggings in the Forest

“If the purpose of the Second Amendment is to allow people to protect themselves, that’s implicated when you’re in a high-crime area,” Roberts said. “It’s not implicated when you’re out in the woods.”

He added, “How many muggings take place in the forest?”

Gunmaker Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. climbed as much as 4.7% in the stock’s biggest intraday advance since Sept. 1, and Sturm Ruger & Co. also touched a session high as the court heard arguments. Ammunition manufacturer Ammo Inc. rose, too.

Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for universal background checks and gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP. The group filed a brief at the Supreme Court supporting the New York restrictions.

New York requires applicants to show “proper cause” to get a concealed-carry license. Although the statute doesn’t define that phrase, state court rulings have said applicants must show a need for self-protection that distinguishes them from the general public. The law gives local officials broad discretion to decide whether the standard has been met. The state generally forbids open carry of handguns.

New York, backed by the Biden administration, says gun-carry restrictions have a long pedigree, both in the U.S. and in the English law that provided the foundation for the Second Amendment.

“For centuries, English and American law have imposed limits on carrying firearms in public in the interest of public safety,” Underwood argued. Justice Department lawyer Brian Fletcher said the New York law “is consistent with the Second Amendment because it is firmly grounded in our nation’s history and tradition of gun regulation.”

They got support from the court’s three liberal justices.

“I don’t know how I get past all that history, without you sort of making it up and saying there’s a right to control states that has never been exercised in the entire history of the United States,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Paul Clement, the lawyer arguing for the challengers.

Trump Appointees

The Supreme Court has never said whether the Second Amendment protects rights outside the home.

“Carrying a firearm outside the home is a fundamental constitutional right,” Clement argued. “It is not some extraordinary action that requires an extraordinary demonstration of need.”

The court is hearing an appeal by the NRA-affiliated New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and residents Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, who both live in Rensselaer County. The two men both got licenses to carry handguns in some circumstances, including hunting and target practice, but were denied an unrestricted right to carry.

New York’s carry restrictions date back more than a century. The state first required people to have a license for firearms with a 1911 statute known as the Sullivan Law, adding the “proper cause” requirement two years later.

The high court has been largely silent on the subject of gun rights since 2010, when it said the Second Amendment covers states and cities, along with the federal government and the District of Columbia. That followed a 2008 ruling that for the first time said people have a constitutional right to keep a handgun at home for self-defense purposes.

Gun-rights advocates have been counting on the three Donald Trump appointees -- Kavanaugh, Barrett and Neil Gorsuch -- to tilt the balance on a court that had been reluctant to further expand Second Amendment rights. Each has a history of backing gun rights in other contexts.

The court is scheduled to rule by late June in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 20-843.

(Updates with excerpts from argument starting in fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at

Peter Jeffrey

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