The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a restrictive gun-licensing law in New York which required individuals who wanted to obtain a license to carry a firearm outside of the home to prove “proper cause” for doing so.
In a 6 to 3 vote delivered on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that New York’s policy, which granted state bureaucrats the authority to approve or reject certain individuals for licenses to carry based on subjective material, is wholly unconstitutional because it tramples on the Second Amendment rights of Americans.
As the court noted in its summary of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, “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.’”
Justice Clarence Thomas authored the opinion, which was joined by the five other Republican-nominated justices who expressed their belief that New York’s gun licensing scheme severely hampers Americans’ constitutional rights. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett also filed concurring opinions.
Here are the best lines from those opinions that will change how the Supreme Court rules on the Second Amendment forever.
The Second Amendment Protects “Ordinary, Law-Abiding” Citizens
As Thomas clearly noted in his opinion, “It is undisputed that petitioners Koch and Nash—two ordinary, law-abiding, adult citizens—are part of ‘the people’ whom the Second Amendment protects.”
Thomas said New York’s attempts to limit the Second Amendment rights of individuals like the men who applied to carry guns outside of their homes but were rejected are clearly unconstitutional because such rights are protected under the scope of the Consitution.
“The Second Amendment’s plain text thus presumptively guarantees petitioners Koch and Nash a right to ‘bear’ arms in public for self-defense,” he wrote.
The Burden Of Proof When It Comes To Constitutional Rights Is On The Government
When New York subjectively rejected two individuals’ attempts to obtain a handgun license, the burden of proof was forced on the citizens who were required to prove they had “proper cause” to carry handguns, as determined by the state.
Not only did Thomas confirm that “No New York statute defines ‘proper cause,’” but he affirmed that the burden of proof when it comes to the constitutional right to bear arms should be on the government, not the citizens those rights are designed to protect.
“When the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command,’” Thomas wrote.
He added that “The Second Amendment ‘is the very product of an interest balancing by the people’ and it ‘surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms’ for self-defense.”
History Doesn’t Support Restrictive, Subjective Licensing
In the majority opinion, Thomas emphasized the importance of historical tradition in determining cases related to firearms.
He noted that 43 states issue various licenses to carry a gun outside of the home based on objective, definable criteria but six states, including New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, have all made their licensing requirements based on subjective criteria determined by the government.
As Thomas noted, “apart from a handful of late 19th-century jurisdictions, the historical record compiled by respondents does not demonstrate a tradition of broadly prohibiting the public carry of commonly used firearms for self-defense.”
“Nor is there any such historical tradition limiting public carry only to those law-abiding citizens who demonstrate a special need for self-defense,” he added.
Not Even English Tradition Says Americans Can’t Carry Handguns For Self-Defense
In this case, the New York government tried to argue using a “substantial reliance on English history and custom before the founding.”
“We find that history ambiguous at best and see little reason to think that the Framers would have thought it applicable in the New World. It is not sufficiently probative to defend New York’s proper-cause requirement,” Thomas wrote.
After a long explanation as to why English laws and customs don’t necessarily apply to American legal standards after its founding, Thomas concluded that not even English historical tradition would justify New York’s “proper cause” licensing requirement.
“At the very least, we cannot conclude from this historical record that, by the time of the founding, English law would have justified restricting the right to publicly bear arms suited for self-defense only to those who demonstrate some special need for self-protection,” he stated.
Gun Control Found Its Roots In Racism
“Even before the Civil War commenced in 1861, this Court indirectly affirmed the importance of the right to keep and bear arms in public,” Thomas wrote.
In a review of “the public discourse surrounding Reconstruction,” Thomas noted that “public carry for self-defense remained a central component of the protection that the Fourteenth Amendment secured for all citizens.”
“After the Civil War, of course, the exercise of this fundamental right by freed slaves was systematically thwarted. This Court has already recounted some of the Southern abuses violating blacks’ right to keep and bear arms,” he wrote.
What Other Constitutional Rights Require Prerequisites?
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote. “That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”
Not only does it infringe on the Second Amendment, but Thomas said New York’s licensing scheme adds hurdles for Americans to be protected by the Fourteenth Amendment “in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.”
Mass Shooting Stats Have Nothing To Do With This Case
In his concurring opinion, Alito slammed dissenting Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor for bringing up irrelevant statistics to try and justify restricting Americans’ consitutional rights.
“Why, for example, does the dissent think it is relevant to recount the mass shootings that have
occurred in recent years?” Alito asked. “Does the dissent think that laws like New York’s prevent or deter such atrocities? Will a person bent on carrying out a mass shooting be stopped if he knows that it is illegal to carry a handgun outside the home?”
Alito also questioned how the dissenting justices “account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo?”
“The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator,” he noted.
Alito asked the same questions of gun suicides, domestic disputes, and other firearm-related statistics.
Good Guys Need Guns For Protection
Alito also noted in his concurring opinion that “The police cannot disarm every person who acquires a gun for use in criminal activity; nor can they provide bodyguard protection for the State’s nearly 20 million residents or the 8.8 million people who live in New York City.”
And since “ordinary citizens frequently use firearms to protect themselves from criminal attack,” they shouldn’t be stopped from carrying a gun for self defense in crime-ridden cities in states such as New York.
“Some of these people reasonably believe that unless they can brandish or, if necessary, use a handgun in the case of attack, they may be murdered, raped, or suffer some other serious injury,” Alito noted. “Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear that they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves. And today, no less than in 1791, the Second Amendment guarantees their right to do so.”