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SCOTUS Strikes Down New York’s Restrictive Handgun Permit Law

By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone

Washington, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law requiring residents to have “proper cause” in order to legally carry a handgun outside their homes.

Under the century-old New York state law, applicants must demonstrate a need for a concealed-carry permit or gun license that is greater than the rest of the general public, USA Today reported.

A general desire for self-protection does not meet the requirements of “proper cause” under the law.

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 on Thursday to strike down the law, saying it violates New Yorker’s Constitutional rights.

“New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote on behalf of the majority, according to USA Today.

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees,’” Thomas continued, according to NBC News. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the decision does not block states from mandating background checks, fingerprinting, mental health record checks, and other requirements before issuing handgun permits.

Kavanaugh said the problem with New York’s law was that it granted “open-ended discretion to licensing officials and authorizes licenses only for those applicants who can show some special need apart from self-defense,” NBC News reported.

As a result, citizens have been denied the right to carry a gun for self-protection.

In a dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer, he argued that many states have tried to address gun violence by implementing laws that “limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms…” USA Today reported.

“The court today severely burdens states’ efforts to do so,” Breyer claimed.

Breyer wrote that he believes that the Second Amendment allows states to take into account the seriousness of gun violence in order to implement strict gun laws.

New Jersey, Maryland, California, and at least three other Democratic-led states also have similar gun licensing requirements, USA Today reported.

The case marked the first time the nation’s highest court took up a gun rights case since it ruled in favor of the plaintiff in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, NBC News reported.

The Supreme Court found in that case that DC law was unconstitutional because the Second Amendment provided an individual the right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense.

The latest case challenged New York state law that prohibits residents from concealed carry unless they can demonstrate “a special need for self protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession,” NBC News reported.

Paul Clement, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said New York’s law “makes it virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen” to get a conceal-carry license.

Two of the plaintiffs who joined the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association’s lawsuit said they wanted a concealed handgun to keep themselves safe, NBC News reported.

Robert Nash wanted to carry a gun because there had been a lot of robberies in his neighborhood and Brendan Koch also cited a desire to carry a concealed gun for protection.

The lawsuit said both men completed gun safety courses and applied for permits, and both were turned down, NBC News reported.

Clement said that New York law is so restrictive that it cannot be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s “affirmation of the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

Federal courts have been split on what the Second Amendment means by the right “to keep and bear arms,” NBC News reported.

In New York, that’s been further aggravated by the attorney general’s assertion that the right is subject to state regulation, even in the case of laws and regulations that infringe on the Second Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in March upheld a Hawaii law similar to the one under attack in New York, NBC News reported.

The same court that earlier ruled individuals don’t have a right to carry weapons concealed in public just concluded there was also no general right to openly carry weapons in public for self-defense.

The Supreme Court in 2020 dismissed a challenge to a New York City law that prohibited New York City gun owners from transporting their weapons except when going to an approved gun range in the city.

New York City officials scrambled to amend the law before it could be taken up by the Supreme Court, and ended up repealing it.

Because of the amendment, the court tossed the case when it got to them, NBC News reported.

But U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they thought the court should have taken up and decided that case and declared the restriction unconstitutional.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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