The Supreme Court on Thursday issued its biggest ruling on gun rights in more than a decade. Here are some questions and answers about what the decision does and doesn’t do:
WHAT EXACTLY WAS THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION ON GUNS?
The Supreme Court said that Americans have the right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. That’s important because about a half-dozen states have made getting a license to carry a gun in public conditional on a person showing a real need, sometimes called “good cause” or “good cause,” to carry the gun. That limits who can carry a gun in those states.
In its decision, the Supreme Court struck down New York’s “adequate cause” requirement, but other states’ laws are expected to face swift challenges. About a quarter of the US population lives in states that are expected to be affected by the ruling.
The last time the court issued major gun decisions was in 2008 and 2010. In those decisions, the justices established the national right to keep a gun for self-defense in a person’s home. The question for the court this time was only about carrying a gun outside the house.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the right extended outside the home as well: “Nothing in the text of the Second Amendment draws a distinction between the home and the public with respect to the right to keep and bear arms.”
HOW DID THE JUDGES DETERMINE?
The gun ruling split the court 6-3, with the court’s conservative justices in the majority and liberals dissenting. In addition to Thomas, the majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The three liberals on the court who dissented are Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
ARE NEW YORKERS NOW FREE TO CARRY A GUN IN PUBLIC?
Not quite. The judges did not touch other parts of New York’s gun law, so other requirements to obtain a license remain. The court made it clear that the state can continue to make people apply for a license to carry a firearm and can place limitations on who qualifies for a permit and where a gun can be carried. Going forward, however, New Yorkers will no longer be required to give a specific reason why they want to be able to carry a gun in public.
The decision also doesn’t take effect immediately, and state lawmakers said Thursday they planned to review the licensing rules this summer. They have yet to detail their plans. Some options under discussion include requiring firearms training and a clean criminal record. The state could also prohibit the carrying of firearms in certain places, such as near schools or on public transportation.
In addition, the decision does not address the law that was recently passed in New York in response to the Buffalo grocery store massacre that, among other things, prohibited anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing or possessing a semi-automatic rifle.
WHAT OTHER STATES MAY BE IMPACTED?
A handful of states have laws similar to New York. The Biden administration has recounted that California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have similar laws to New York. Connecticut and Delaware are also sometimes mentioned as states with similar laws.
WHAT CAN STATES DO TO REGULATE WEAPONS AFTER THE DECISION?
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, accompanied by Chief Justice John Roberts, pointed out the limits of the decision. States can still require people to obtain a license to carry a gun, Kavanaugh wrote, and make that license conditional on “fingerprinting, background checks, mental health record checks, and training in the handling of firearms and in laws on the use of force, among other possible requirements.” Gun control groups said states could review and perhaps increase those requirements.States can also say that those licensed to carry a gun must not do so openly but must conceal their weapon.
Judge Samuel Alito noted that the decision said “nothing about who can legally own a firearm or what requirements must be met to purchase a gun.” States have long banned criminals and the mentally ill from owning guns, for example. The decision also said nothing “about the kinds of guns people can own,” Alito noted, so states could also try to limit the availability of specific guns.
The justices also suggested that states can ban the carrying of guns altogether in certain “sensitive locations.” An earlier Supreme Court decision listed schools and government buildings as places where weapons might be prohibited. Thomas said the historical record shows that legislatures, polling places and courthouses could also be sensitive places. Thomas said courts can “use analogies with those historic ‘sensitive location’ regulations to determine that new and analogous modern regulations prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive locations are constitutionally permissible.”
HOW DO COURTS EVALUATE GUN RESTRICTIONS IN THE FUTURE?
The court made it difficult to justify gun restrictions, though it’s hard to know what the new test the court announced will mean for any specific regulation.
Thomas wrote that the nation’s appellate courts have been applying an incorrect standard for assessing whether such laws are inadmissible. Courts have generally taken a two-step approach, first looking at the constitutional text and history to see if a regulation is included in the Second Amendment and then, if so, looking at the government’s justification for the restriction.
“Despite the popularity of this two-step approach, it is one step too many,” Thomas wrote.
From now on, Thomas wrote, the courts can enforce regulations only if the government can show that they fall within traditionally accepted limits.
Among the state and local restrictions already being challenged in federal court are bans on the sale of certain semi-automatic weapons, called assault rifles by opponents, and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as minimum age requirements. to buy semi-automatic firearms.
WHAT OTHER BIG DECISIONS ARE IN PROCESS?
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the gun case in November and a decision was expected before the court begins its summer recess. The court has nine more opinions to issue before taking a recess and plans to publish more on Friday. She is still waiting for an important decision on abortion.
Associated Press Editor David Caruso contributed to this report from New York.