WASHINGTON (AP) – In a major expansion of gun rights, the Supreme Court said Thursday that Americans have the right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
The decision follows recent mass shootings and is expected to ultimately allow more people to legally carry weapons on the streets of the country’s largest cities – including New York, Los Angeles and Boston – and elsewhere. About a quarter of the U.S. population lives in states that are expected to be affected of the ruling, which struck down a gun law in New York. The decision, the High Court’s first major arms decision in more than a decade, was 6-3 with the Conservatives of the Court in the majority and the Liberals in the dissent.
The decision comes as Congress is working towards passage of gun laws after mass shootings in Texas,New York and California. On Thursday, senators were expected to pave the way for this measure, modest in scope but still the most far-reaching in decades.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court ruling, which he said “is contrary to both common sense and the Constitution and should deeply concern us all.”
He urged states to pass new laws, saying, “I urge Americans across the country to make their voices heard on gun safety. There is life at stake.”
In the statement itself, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote to the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
The decision struck down a law in New York that requires people to demonstrate a special need to carry a gun to get a license to carry one in public. The judges said the claim violates the Second Amendment’s right to “hold and carry weapons.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have similar laws. The Biden administration had urged judges to uphold New York law.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the ruling comes at a particularly painful time when New York is still mourning the deaths of over 10 people in a mass. shooting in a supermarket in Buffalo. “This decision is not just ruthless. It is reprehensible. That is not what New Yorkers want,” she said.
But Tom King, president of the plaintiff’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he was relieved.
“The legal and lawful gun owner in the state of New York will no longer be pursued by laws that have nothing to do with people’s safety and will do nothing to make the people safer,” he said. “And maybe now we’re starting to go after criminals and the perpetrator of these heinous acts.”
In a court ruling that his liberal colleagues joined, Judge Stephen Breyer focused on the strain of gun violence. “Since the beginning of this year alone (2022), there have already been 277 reported mass shootings – an average of more than one a day,” Breyer wrote.
Supporters of New York law had argued that beating it down would lead to more weapons on the streets and higher rates of violent crime. Gun violence that was already on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic has risen again.
In most of the country, gun owners have few problems with legally carrying their guns in public. But it had been harder to do in New York and the handful of states with similar laws. New York law, which has been in place since 1913, says that in order to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license must show “real cause,” a specific need to carry the weapon.
The state issues unlimited licenses where a person can carry their weapon anywhere and limited licenses that allow a person to carry the weapon but only for specific purposes such as hunting and target shooting or to and from their place of business.
The Supreme Court last issued one major arms decision in 2010. In that decision and one judgment of 2008 the judges established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defense. The question to the court this time was about carrying one outside the home.
The challenge to New York law was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest gun advocate organization, and two men seeking an unlimited ability to carry weapons outside their homes.
The court’s decision is somewhat out of step with public opinion. About half of voters in the 2020 presidential election said gun laws in the United States should be tightened, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive poll of voters. A further third said the laws should be kept as they are, while only about 1 in 10 mentioned gun laws should be less stringent.
About 8 out of 10 Democratic voters said gun laws should be made stricter, VoteCast showed. Among Republican voters, about half said the laws should be kept as they are, while the remaining half are tightly divided between more and less strict.
Associated Press reporters Hannah Fingerhut and Zeke Miller in Washington and Michael Hill in East Greenbush, New York, contributed to this report.