Supreme Court expands gun rights, with nation divided
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major expansion of gun rights after a series of mass shootings, the Supreme Court said Thursday that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense, a ruling likely to lead to more people legally armed. The decision came out as Congress and states debate gun-control legislation.
About one-quarter of the U.S. population lives in states expected to be affected by the ruling, which struck down a New York gun law. The high court’s first major gun decision in more than a decade split the court 6-3, with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals in dissent.
Across the street from the court, lawmakers at the Capitol sped toward passage of gun legislation prompted by recent massacres in Texas,New York and California. Senators cleared the way for the measure, modest in scope but still the most far-reaching in decades.
Also Thursday, underscoring the nation’s deep divisions over the issue, the sister of a 9-year-old girl killed in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, pleaded with state lawmakers to pass gun legislation. The Republican-controlled legislature has stripped away gun restrictions over the past decade.
President Joe Biden said in a statement he was “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court ruling. It “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” he said.
He urged states to pass new laws. “I call on Americans across the country to make their voices heard on gun safety. Lives are on the line,” he said.
The decision struck down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a particular need for carrying a gun in order to get a license to carry a gun in a concealed way in public. The justices said that requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.” That right is not a “second-class right,” Thomas wrote. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have laws similar to New York’s. Those laws are expected to be quickly challenged.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., said the ruling came at a particularly painful time, with New York mourning the deaths of 10 people in a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo. “This decision isn’t just reckless. It’s reprehensible. It’s not what New Yorkers want,” she said.
Gun control groups called the decision a significant setback. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice and an expert on the Second Amendment, wrote on Twitter that the decision could be the “biggest expansion of gun rights” by the Supreme Court in U.S. history.
Republican lawmakers were among those cheering the decision. Tom King, president of the plaintiff New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he was relieved.
“The lawful and legal gun owner of New York State is no longer going to be persecuted by laws that have nothing to do with the safety of the people and will do nothing to make the people safer,” he said. “And maybe now we’ll start going after criminals and perpetrators of these heinous acts.”
The court’s decision is somewhat out of step with public opinion.