April 26, 2021
The Supreme Court announced it will hear a major gun rights case. The case centers around New York’s strict restrictions on carrying firearms outside the home.
Perhaps the single most important unresolved Second Amendment question after the Court’s landmark decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, is whether the Second Amendment secures the individual right to bear arms for self-defense where confrontations often occur: outside the home.
But appeals courts are still divided on how to properly resolve that question. The plaintiff’s in New York hope the Supreme Court will soon resolve that issue once and for all.
New York Restrictions
Since 1913, New York law has required someone who wishes to carry a handgun in public to demonstrate “proper cause” in order to obtain a license permitting them to do so.
Proper cause can be demonstrated in several ways. For example, someone who wishes to use a gun for hunting or target practice may obtain a license permitting them to do so, but this type of license can be restricted to only allow the bearer to use their gun for these purposes.
New York law also provides for “unrestricted” licenses. But as many New York residents can attest, this isn’t like getting a driver’s license. In order to acquire an unrestricted license, a resident must show they have a “special need” to carry a firearm. And it isn’t enough to show a desire to protect one’s self, family, or community. Instead, the need must be distinguishable from such common desires. So someone might be able to obtain a license because they have a particular fear of domestic abuser— but someone who merely wants to carry a gun, because of a general fear that it would be useful if they are ever the victim of a violent crime, cannot obtain a license.
Why it matters
The plaintiffs in the case include a gun-rights group and Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, two New York men who tried to get a license to carry a firearm in public and were denied. Something they say violates their Second Amendment right.
The plaintiffs asked the Court to consider the broad question of “whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense”
But in announcing their decision to hear the case, the justices wrote that they will only resolve a more narrow question: “whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.”
Nevertheless, this narrower question is still broad enough to allow the Supreme Court to untangle a web of inconsistent and conflicting Second Amendment precedents. And perhaps most importantly, the case gives the high court another opportunity to restore the original meaning to the right to bear arms.