In one of the most consequential rulings on gun control in over a decade, the Supreme Court struck down a New York law Thursday requiring state residents to have “proper cause” to carry a handgun. Supporters of the Second Amendment have lauded the decision, while gun control advocates say it jeopardizes public health.
The now-unconstitutional law, part of a larger array of New York gun restrictions highlighted as some of the toughest in the nation, mandated that those applying to carry a concealed handgun provide a reason why they need the weapon, which officials then approve or deny.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul swiftly denounced the ruling, saying the Supreme Court “recklessly” struck down the law at “a moment of national reckoning on gun violence.”
The case has been closely watched in New York, coming on the heels of a mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May where an 18-year-old killed 10 people and injured three others in what authorities called a racially-motivated killing. Less than two weeks later, the attack was followed by a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two adults dead.
Amid the outcry, the U.S. Senate passed a new gun control package Thursday — the first significant federal firearms legislation in three decades.
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Scott Pulaski, an avid gun rights supporter from Alton, Illinois, has owned and operated Piasa Armory, a gun store and shooting range, for over a decade. For him, the ruling gives individuals the opportunity to defend themselves when faced with a threat.
“Individuals are their own first responders, they’re the ones that are responsible for their own protection first and foremost,” Pulaski said. “It is not always an option to wait on the phone when 911 police response times are several minutes and there’s a bad guy in your house or there’s a bad guy attacking you on the street.”
The ruling reinforces the American ideal of individual choice, Pulaski said. “The idea of the state being allowed to arbitrarily decide the rights of others finally being stripped down is a great thing for the restoration of rights,” he added.
But some fear the ruling will further endanger marginalized communities.
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel for Lambda Legal, recalled the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, noting how LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by gun violence.
“We know that our community is not safe, so long as we cannot regulate and address the issue of gun violence in our country and by permitting unlawful, unreasonable regulations on who may carry firearms in public,” Gonzalez-Pagan told USA TODAY.
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At least five Democratic-led states — including California, Maryland, and New Jersey — have licensing requirements similar to New York. Together, those states represent about a quarter of the nation’s population.
California had been anticipating the ruling, Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement Thursday. Following the Supreme Court decision, California almost immediately introduced legislation on Thursday to further strengthen the state’s gun laws.
“Next week, I will have 16 new gun safety bills on my desk, including a bill that will allow individuals to sue gun makers and distributors for violating certain gun laws. I look forward to signing all of those bills,” Newsom said. “California has proven that commonsense gun laws save lives, and we will continue to stand up to those in political power who enable and coddle the gun industry.”
Historically, New Jersey law has made it difficult to obtain a carry license. Residents must demonstrate they face “specific threats or previous attacks” that present a danger to their life and can’t be avoided any other way.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, an ardent gun control supporter who pushed through several packages of new firearms laws during his first term, said in a statement his administration anticipated the Supreme Court ruling and is reviewing its options.
“Let there be no mistake — this dangerous decision will make America a less safe country,” Murphy said. “But let me be equally clear that here in New Jersey, we will do everything in our power to protect our residents… and will work to ensure that our gun safety laws are as strong as possible while remaining consistent with this tragic ruling.”
Thursday’s ruling establishes a new framework for determining the constitutionality of gun control laws. Matthew Larosiere, legal policy director for the Firearms Policy Coalition, said that the ruling is a victory — but he hopes it is just the beginning of a broader effort to reinstitute constitutionally protected gun rights.
“It means that there’s finally something of a standard for lawsuits involving your Second Amendment rights, so that’s pretty good. It means we may get some actual meaningful review of a lot of these laws and policies that we’ve suffered for decades,” said Larosiere.
But little guidance exists on how to apply the new framework, said Kelly Roskam, director of law and policy at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
“The uncertainty of how the text history and tradition test might be applied makes us nervous for the fate of these gun violence prevention laws,” Roskam told USA TODAY.
That uncertainty, she said, could “have a devastating impact on the safety of people living in this country.”
Contributing: Sarah Taddeo, Democrat and Chronicle; Steve Janoski, NorthJersey.com