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New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. Inc. v. Bruen

How the Supreme Court upholds the Second Amendment right to carry guns in public amid a nationwide surge in gun violence.



 

BACKGROUND:

Docket No. 20-843

Date Argued: 11/03/2021

Date Decided: 06/23/22


In 1911, the state of New York enacted the Sullivan Act, effectuating a requirement for a license and proper cause to carry a firearm in public. This prerequisite for a “proper cause” was called into question when two adult New York residents, Brandon Koch and Robert Nash, filed a civil action suit against the New York State Police superintendent and a New York Supreme Court Justice. Koch and Nash had previously been denied unrestricted handgun carry licenses due to a lack of proper cause. Believing that their constitutional rights from the second and fourteenth amendments were in violation, they took the case through the New York court system up to the Supreme Court.


PRESIDING QUESTIONS: While the second amendment explicitly states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, the government has allowed the states to regulate firearms concerning their civilian populations. This leads us to an important question: If the States are within constitutional bounds to regulate guns and require licenses, how is requiring a demonstrated special need an overstep?



 


OUTCOME - 6-3 Opinion to reverse the Second Circuit’s ruling and remand case for further review

New York’s requirement for demonstration of proper cause under the Sullivan Act was deemed unconstitutional. Since Koch and Nash were law-abiding citizens wishing to carry permissible firearms in public, their right to do so was protected by the second amendment. By "preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public", their fourteenth amendment rights were also infringed upon.


PARTIES AND OPINIONS

Side 1- New York State Rifle & Pistol Inc. (representing Nash & Koch), Petitioner

  • New York State Rifle & Pistol Inc., a firearms advocacy group of which Nash and Koch were both a part of which represented them in court.

  • Petitioner Opinion (Majority): There is no other constitutional right that requires demonstration of a special need to government officers in order to be exercised, so New York State's requirement of proper cause is an infringement upon the fourteenth and second amendments

Side 2- Bruen, Respondent

  • Kevin P. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, and Justice Richard J. McNally, New York Supreme Court

  • Respondent opinion (Dissenting): New York adopted a reasonable licensing law to regulate the concealed carriage of handguns in the best interest of health and life for the citizens of New York.


SIGNIFICANCE


The surge of mass shootings in public spaces perpetrated using firearms has caused many to call for regulation or reform regarding an individual’s right to possess them. The potentially devastating consequences of lax firearms regulation can be seen in instances such as the 2017 Las Vegas Shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the recent Uvalde, Texas school shooting to name a few. However, the right to keep and bear arms is written into the nation’s founding script and is considered to be essential to protecting the rights granted to individual citizens—proof of true liberty and the right to choose. This leaves America at a difficult crossroads: how may we protect the civilian populace from gun violence while maintaining the right to bear them?


Although areas of jurisdiction not preempted by federal law are left to the states to regulate, the lack of specificity in the second amendment regarding firearm types and modifications has traditionally allowed local laws to regulate them. The fourteenth amendment, created to grant formerly enslaved people freedom after the Civil War, also states that States cannot deprive citizens of privileges or life, liberty, and property. Citing violations of both amendments, the majority opinion stated that states couldn’t require a proper cause for a right protected by the Constitution.


In effect, the decision reinforces the public carriage of firearms as a constitutional right. While the court did not rule license regulation of firearms as unconstitutional, this ruling makes carrying a gun in public more accessible. The timing of this ruling makes it even more controversial when considering the scores of mass shootings in recent years.


Sources

  • https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-843_7j80.pdf

  • https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/20-843

  • https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/new-york-state-rifle-pistol-association-inc-v-bruen/

  • https://www.oyez.org/cases/2021/20-843



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