Gov. Kathy Hochul reacts to the Supreme Court striking down a restrictive New York gun law in a major ruling for gun rights. Credit: NY Governor's Office

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Thursday struck down a century-old New York gun law that set limits on who could obtain a concealed carry gun permit, delivering a ruling that is expected to invalidate similar restrictions in other states and expand the ability of gun owners nationwide to carry firearms outside of the home.

In a 6-3 decision, split along ideological lines, the court’s conservative justices ruled that New York’s “proper-cause requirement” — which  requires concealed carry permit applicants to prove they face “a special or unique danger to their life" — was unconstitutional.

“The proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.

The court’s three liberal justices, in a dissent opinion written by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, said the ruling “ignores these significant dangers” of gun violence “and leaves states without the ability to address them.”

What to Know

  • The Supreme Court strikes down in a 6-3 vote a New York law requiring gun owners to prove “proper cause” of danger to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm outside of the home.
  • The court says requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.
  • Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams decried the ruling and the state is expected to pursue a legislative response.

“Since the start of this year (2022), there have been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day,” Breyer wrote. “Gun violence has now surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.”

The case was brought forward by the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association on behalf of two upstate gun owners — Robert Nash and Brandon Koch — who sued the state after being denied concealed carry licenses by local licensing officials.

The court’s decision to expand gun rights comes as the nation grapples with a recent spate of mass shootings including a deadly shooting spree at a Buffalo supermarket and at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead.

New York officials respond

Gov. Kathy Hochul, moments after the decision, said the ruling “is not just reckless, it’s reprehensible,” and said the State Legislature will return to special session to respond legislatively to the court’s decision.

“It is frightful in its scope on how it is setting back this nation,” she said. “Today the Supreme Court is sending us backward in our effort to protect families … this could place millions of New Yorkers in harm’s way.”

Metropolitan Transportation Authority general counsel Paige Graves said the agency has started “drafting appropriate rules to keep dangerous weapons out of our subways, buses and commuter trains.”

“To be clear, protecting our employees and customers is MTA’s highest priority, and the presence of guns within a sensitive place like New York’s transit system is an unacceptable risk,” Graves said in a statement.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, raised the prospect of the city expanding its list of “sensitive locations” where carrying a gun in banned, such as schools and government buildings. Adams, in a statement said the city will review its current approach to “defining sensitive locations.”

Thomas, in his ruling, pre-emptively addressed the prospect of “expanding the category of ‘sensitive places’ to all places of public congregation that are not isolated from law enforcement,” saying doing so would be “far too” broad.

“There is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is crowded and protected generally by the New York City Police Department,” Thomas wrote.

Activists on both sides of the issue had been closely following the case. Gun control advocates have raised concerns that striking down New York’s law could have far-reaching implications on how state and local officials across the country administer local gun laws. New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts all have permitting laws similar to New York’s that may now face legal challenges.

Pro-gun groups have argued New York’s law violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms by imposing heightened requirements that made it difficult to obtain a concealed carry permit.

The NRA, responding to the ruling, said “the Court affirmed that the right to bear arms does not stop at a person’s front door.”

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, in a statement, said the decision “unequivocally validates the position of the NRA and should put lawmakers on notice: no law should be passed that impinges this individual freedom.”

Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which brought the case forward on behalf of the two gun owners, told the Associated Press: “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."

Congressional action

The decision comes as Congress works to pass the first bipartisan package of gun reform legislation in more than two decades in response to the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo.

A bipartisan proposal poised to pass both chambers this week calls for increased funding for school safety programs, allowing gun vendors access to the juvenile records of gun purchasers between the ages of 18 and 21, and providing incentives to states to enact red-flag laws aimed at keeping at-risk individuals from having guns.

President Joe Biden, in a statement issued shortly after the court’s ruling, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, noting that New York’s law, dating back to 1911, has existed for more than a century.

“This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” Biden said, adding, “For centuries, states have regulated who may purchase or possess weapons, the types of weapons they may use, and the places they may carry those weapons. And the courts have upheld these regulations.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a statement said the decision “flies in the face of overwhelming public support for rational gun safety measures.”

Republicans largely praised the court’s decision as a victory for law-abiding gun owners.

New York GOP chairman Nick Langworthy, previewing how the gun debate is likely to emerge as a major talking point in the upcoming midterm elections, said “while this is an important victory, we must take our fight all the way to November.”

Gun safety advocates argued the court’s ruling counters the current push in Congress to pass gun-control legislation aimed at reducing gun violence.

"Today's ruling is out of step with the bipartisan majority in Congress that is on the verge of passing significant gun safety legislation, and out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans who support gun safety measures,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

With Yancey Roy and Tom Brune

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