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Supreme Court strikes down New York gun law on Second Amendment grounds

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The Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision Thursday struck down a New York state law that requires applicants for a license to carry a gun outside of their homes to have a “proper cause” to do so, saying it violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling in the case known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen is a major victory for gun rights advocates who had challenged New York’s restrictive law, which makes it a crime to carry a concealed firearm without a license.

It also represents the Supreme Court’s biggest expansion of gun rights in more than a decade and casts doubt on laws in eight other states and the District of Columbia that restrict concealed-carry permits in ways similar to New York.

The Supreme Court’s six conservative justices voted to invalidate the law, which has been in existence for more than a century, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing the majority opinion in the case.

The court’s three liberals voted to uphold the law, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing a dissent on the decision.

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer stands past gun-rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In his majority opinion, Thomas wrote that New York’s law violated the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which says citizens have a right to equal protection under the law,cause it “prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms” as protected by the Second Amendment.

The ruling comes weeks after mass shootings at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, and another in a Texas elementary school reignited a national debate about U.S. gun laws.

Democratic elected officials in New York quickly condemned Thursday’s decision, which they said will imperil public safety.

“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,” wrote New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat.

The case was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and two of its members, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, whose applications for concealed-carry handgun licenses for self-defense purposes were rejected.

New York Supreme Court Justice Richard McNally, who handled both license requests, ruled that neither man had shown proper cause to carry guns in public because they failed to demonstrate that they had a special need for self-protection.

The plaintiffs then challenged that denial in a federal court in New York, arguing that the state law governing concealed-carry licenses, which permits them only when “proper cause exists for the issuance thereof,” violates the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The law also required applicants to have “good moral character.”

After a federal judge in New York dismissed the case, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court then took the case.

Thomas, in his majority opinion, wrote that New York’s proper-cause requirement, as it has been interpreted by state courts, was inconsistent with the “Nation’s history of firearm regulation.”

“A State may not prevent law-abiding citizens from publicly carrying handguns because they have not demonstrated a special need for self-defense,” Thomas wrote.

But Breyer, in his dissent, wrote, “Only by ignoring an abundance of historical evidence supporting regulations restricting the public carriage of firearms can the Court conclude that New York’s law is not ‘consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Breyer also wrote,”Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.”

“The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so.”

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