The United States Supreme Court has struck down New York’s “proper cause” or “may issue” requirement for obtaining concealed carry permits in a 6 to 3 opinion handed down today in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. This is the case that was a second bite at the apple, challenging New York’s “may issue” concealed carry restrictions after the case that was argued in 2019 was declared moot when the New York changed its laws to avoid an adverse high court ruling.
You can read the full ruling here.
New York’s gun control law requires citizens to show “proper cause” why they should be allowed to exercise their constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. In short, the Bruen case was brought to decide whether the Second Amendment allows the government to arbitrarily prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense.
In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas writes . . .
The test that the Court set forth in Heller and applies today requires courts to assess whether modern firearms regulations are consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding. Of course, the regulatory challenges posed by firearms today are not always the same as those that preoccupied the Founders in 1791 or the Reconstruction generation in 1868. But the Constitution can, and must, apply to circumstances beyond those the Founders specifically anticipated, even though its meaning is fixed according to the understandings of those who ratified it. See, e.g., United States v. Jones, 565 U. S. 400, 404–405. Indeed, the Court recognized in Heller at least one way in which the Second Amendment’s historically fixed meaning applies to new circumstances: Its reference to “arms” does not apply “only [to] those arms in existence in the 18th century.” 554 U. S., at 582.
And then there’s this . . .
It is undisputed that petitioners Koch and Nash—two ordinary, law-abiding, adult citizens—are part of “the people” whom the Second Amendment protects. See Heller, 554 U. S., at 580. And no party disputes that handguns are weapons “in common use” today for self-defense. See id., at 627. The Court has little difficulty concluding also that the plain text of the Second Amendment protects Koch’s and Nash’s proposed course of conduct—carrying handguns publicly for self-defense. Nothing in the Second Amendment’s text draws a home/public distinction with respect to the right to keep and bear arms, and the definition of “bear” naturally encompasses public carry. Moreover, the Second Amendment guarantees an “individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” id., at 592, and confrontation can surely take place outside the home.
And Justice Thomas made a particular point to include this gem . . .
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.” McDonald, 561 U. S., at 780 (plurality opinion). The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for selfdefense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.
Given its “conservative” majority, most observers expected the Court to strike down the New York restrictions on concealed carry. The big question was, how would the majority opinion be written? How far-reaching would the ruling be? Would the Bruen decision form the legal basis for challenging and overturning more gun control laws — from magazine capacity limits to “assault weapons” bans to purchase age limits — in cities and states all over the country?
Gun control supporters’ biggest fear when the Court took the case was that, in combination with Heller and McDonald, the ruling would allow lower courts to apply strict scrutiny to any laws which limit the right to keep and bear arms — basically treating the Second Amendment as the equal to other civil rights. Doing so would potentially topple a range of gun control laws nationwide.
Today, all of the gun control industry’s worst fears have come true. Thomas’s opinion is everything gun rights supporters could have hoped for.
Again from Justice Thomas’s opinion . . .
Since Heller and McDonald, the Courts of Appeals have developed a “two-step” framework for analyzing Second Amendment challenges that combines history with means-end scrutiny. The Court rejects that two-part approach as having one step too many. Step one is broadly consistent with Heller, which demands a test rooted in the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by history. But Heller and McDonald do not support a second step that applies means-end scrutiny in the Second Amendment context. Heller’s methodology centered on constitutional text and history. It did not invoke any means-end test such as strict or intermediate scrutiny, and it expressly rejected any interest-balancing inquiry akin to intermediate scrutiny.
Today, finally, the Court has ruled that governments cannot require citizens to show “proper cause” why they are entitled to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Also governments must demonstrate a compelling reason for limiting those rights in certain, very particular circumstances.
The implications of the ruling are, it should go without saying, enormous. The Court has just ended “may issue” concealed carry nationwide. And with its rejection of means-end tests and interest-balancing, the Heller/McDonald/Bruen decisions could be the basis for bringing down a range of gun control laws across the country.
Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t mean that anti-gun jurisdictions like New York, California, Hawaii and others will now be handing out concealed carry permits like candy. Expect them to put up barriers such as high fees and extensive training requirements (which, if they’re too burdensome, will then be challenged in the courts). Today’s ruling simply means that that these governments can no longer make arbitrary decisions regarding whose civil rights can be exercised and whose can’t.
We’ll have more analysis of the ruling and its potential ramifications soon. In the mean time, pop the cork on a champagne bottle. This has been a landmark day for gun rights.