Supreme Court strikes down New York's handgun law

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 11:03 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022
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10:53 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

What the Supreme Court justices said during oral arguments about the New York handgun law

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court moments ago struck down a New York gun law that places restrictions on carrying a concealed gun outside the home.  

This is the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade: In 2008, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms at home for self-defense.

After the ruling, however, to the frustration of gun rights advocates, lower courts relied upon language in the opinion to uphold many gun regulations.

"Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings," then-Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in the Heller case.

Except for a followup decision two years later, the justices largely stayed away from the issue, infuriating gun rights advocates and even some of the justices themselves.

Justice Clarence Thomas declared at one point that the "Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court."

Which brings us to this case: After Justice Amy Coney Barrett took her seat, the court agreed to take up a new case, highlighting the impact of former President Donald Trump's three nominees on the court.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen concerned a New York law governing licenses to carry concealed handguns in public for self-defense. It requires a resident to obtain a license to carry a concealed pistol or revolver and demonstrate that "proper cause" exists for the permit. Residents must show that they have a great need for the license and that they face a "special or unique danger to their life."

Here's what the justices said during arguments: At oral arguments, the conservative majority court seemed poised to strike down the New York law as going too far — although it is always dangerous to gauge the outcome of a case by what the justices say in open court. There did seem to be broad support for regulations that govern sensitive places, but the looming question will be the breadth of the decision and how it might impact other laws.

Arguments were held on Nov. 3, 2021, months before a mass shooting on a Brooklyn subway carried out by a gunman who put on a gas mask, deployed a gas canister, and then began shooting, firing at least 33 times. In May, a gunman, killed 10 people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket; less than two weeks later, another killed 21 adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

During oral arguments, several of the justices asked questions surrounding regulations aimed at sensitive places, including the subways. Paul Clement, a lawyer for the National Rifle Association affiliate behind the challenge, argued that New York is "entitled to have laws that say that you can't have weapons in sensitive places" and that he was not challenging those laws.

For her part, liberal Justice Elena Kagan pushed Clement for his views on the definition of sensitive places. She was the first to bring up New York City subways, asking if they count as sensitive places.

Noting that his clients live outside of New York City, Clement said, "I suppose I could give away the subway because they are not in Manhattan. They're in Rensselaer County."

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito, perhaps trying to gauge the scope of the eventual opinion, looked at the issue from the perspective of law-abiding people riding subways who want to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves.

Alito asked New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood about people returning from work late at night in Manhattan. A doorman, a nurse, somebody who washes dishes are all citizens who have to "commute home by subway." Alito suggested that they may be people who are scared but who would not qualify for a license under the New York law.

Read more about the case and the opinion's implications here.

1:11 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Supreme Court strikes down New York concealed gun law 

From CNN's Tierney Sneed and Ariane de Vogue

People walk dogs past anti-scaling fencing erected around the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, on Thursday, June 23.
People walk dogs past anti-scaling fencing erected around the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, on Thursday, June 23. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that places restrictions on carrying a concealed gun outside the home.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion in the 6-3 decision, according to CNN's Jessica Schneider.

“Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution,” Thomas wrote.

Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, each filed concurring opinions stressing the limits of Thursday’s ruling:

“Our holding decides nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm or the requirements that must be met to buy a gun. Nor does it decide anything about the kinds of weapons that people may possess,” Alito wrote. 

Still, the majority opinion changed the framework that lower courts will use going forward as they analyze other gun restrictions, including potentially the proposals currently before Congress if they eventually become law.

"This challenge was brought by two men in upstate New York who were denied the ability to get this license because they were unable to show this proper cause. And what the proper cause required is that they had to have a special need for carrying the concealed weapons and they had to face a special or unique danger to their life. So the court here in this opinion saying that that law just goes too far, it violates the 14th Amendment, that particular proper cause clause," Schneider said. 

The decision comes as the US has seen several mass shootings in the past few months, including one on the New York City subway and in a Buffalo grocery store.

"The conservative majority is really going back to the idea that Second Amendment has really become a second-class right. This is something that we've heard Justice Thomas say in opinions, we've heard him say it this public, Justice Alito as well," Schneider reported.