The Supreme Court has struck down New York’s century-old system requiring need-based permits to carry concealed weapons. The impact will be lethal, especially in densely-populated places like ours.
The far-reaching 6-3 ruling in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen, the first major gun case the court has decided in 14 years, is significantly unmoored from precedents. Even the court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which definitively stated the Second Amendment protected the right to keep arms at home, did not go this far. This opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, far more stridently expands that right to carry a gun in public.
“The Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” he wrote.
In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer warned the ruling will damage efforts to stem an epidemic of gun violence. "Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds," he wrote. "The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so."
This Bruen decision takes away a long-standing confidence that someone we pass on the street or meet up with in public is unlikely to be armed. It will increase fears in some communities where the proliferation of powerful automatic guns has gotten out of control.
The culture shock will be striking. More spur-of-the-moment access to guns outside the home will tempt and allow more people to make tragic errors of passion and judgment, from road-rage shootings to reckless vigilantism to accidental crossfire hitting bystanders. Consider raucous political protests, of which we've had so many in recent years. Should the public and police really need to worry more than before about confronting legally armed rioters?
The State Legislature must reconvene as soon as possible and enact safety measures that would minimize damage from the ruling. Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) and other legislators are set to explore several strategies. They can specify zones and locations where security considerations don’t allow individuals to pack heat, a step practically invited by Justice Brett Kavanaugh; though in the majority, he tried to narrow the impact of the decision. That list of sensitive places should encompass transit facilities, schools, sporting venues, government buildings, houses of worship, and places where alcohol is served, to name a few.
Requiring heavy liability insurance to walk around with a gun should be considered. Perhaps permits should involve real training, testing and age restrictions as for motor vehicles. Further regulation of private firearm sales remains possible, as do restrictions on sales of excessive supplies of ammunition.
New York must make its own decision: to find ways to put common-sense gun safety rules in place real soon.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.