WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Americans have a broad right to arm themselves in public, striking down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home and setting off a scramble in other states that have similar restrictions.
The decision is expected to spur a wave of lawsuits seeking to loosen existing state and federal restrictions and will force five states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, home to a quarter of all Americans — to rewrite their laws.
The ruling follows the mass shootings last month in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, and was handed down on a day when the Senate neared approval of a set of modest gun control measures, a major step toward ending a yearslong stalemate in Congress.
The 6-to-3 decision again illustrated the power of the six conservative justices, all of whom voted to strike down the New York law, in setting the national agenda on social issues. The court’s three liberal members dissented.
The Second Amendment, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.” States can continue to prohibit guns in some locations like schools and government buildings, Justice Thomas wrote, but the ruling left open where exactly such bans might be allowed.
Moments after the ruling was issued, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York vowed to reconvene the Legislature as early as next month to enact new measures that could let the state maintain existing regulations. Democratic lawmakers in Maryland also suggested they would rewrite legislation to survive expected legal challenges.
“We’re already dealing with a major gun violence crisis,” Ms. Hochul said. “We don’t need to add more fuel to this fire.”
The case concerned so-called may issue laws, which give government officials substantial discretion over issuing gun licenses.
In a concurring opinion, one that appeared to limit the sweep of the majority opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., wrote that “shall issue” laws used objective criteria and remained presumptively constitutional. States were generally free to require, he wrote, “fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force.”
Justice Kavanaugh also extensively quoted the court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which appeared to endorse other restrictions.
President Biden denounced the ruling, describing himself as “deeply disappointed.” It “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution and should deeply trouble us all,” he added.
Gun rights advocates welcomed the decision on Thursday. “The court has made clear that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not limited to the home,” said Larry Keane, a top official with the gun industry’s top trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “That the burden is on the government to justify restrictions, not on the individual to justify to the government a need to exercise their rights.”
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