Violent crime has soared throughout the U.S. over the last year and a half. Many people are on edge and worried about their personal safety. Americans have always enjoyed the freedom to bear arms in the name of self-defense, but many states have strict rules in terms of who can carry these weapons in public and where they can be used.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments over a New York State law that limits who can carry a concealed weapon in public. The Justices asked a series of questions that suggest they may be ready to strike down the law, which would make it easier for ordinary citizens to carry guns in public.
Gun rights advocates say they should be able to carry a weapon if they feel their life is in danger, but gun control proponents say it could lead to an uptick in violence and gun-related injuries.
What’s at Stake in the Gun Rights Case?
New York State currently has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Individuals must show “proper cause” for carrying handguns in public, such as a legitimate need for self-defense, in order to get a license from the state.
Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, two gun owners in NY, along with the National Rifle Association, sued the state after being denied an unrestricted license to carry a firearm in public, arguing that it violates their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.
After a lower court rejected the lawsuit, the plaintiffs appealed the decision, and the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Most applications for unrestricted gun carry licenses get approved by the state, but they tend to be much more common in the rural, northern parts of New York. Officials want to limit the number of people walking around with guns in urban areas, such as NYC.
Conservative Justices appeared skeptical of the state’s decision to grant licenses to those living in rural areas.
“How many muggings take place in the forest?” asked Chief Justice John Roberts.
“Why isn’t it good enough to say, ‘I live in a violent area and I want to defend myself?'” Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked.
Justice Samuel Alito asked why only “celebrities, state judges and retired police officers” can carry guns in public and not ordinary citizens.
New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, who is defending the law, said allowing a proliferation of concealed weapons in New York City “terrifies a great many people.”
Alito argued that there is already a great number of people carrying illegal guns. “But the ordinary hard-working, law-abiding people … they can’t be armed?” Alito asked.
Liberal and conservative justices asked the plaintiffs whether there should be designated sensitive places where guns aren’t allowed if the NY law is struck down, such as government buildings, public transit, sports stadiums, schools, university campuses, sites of protests and drinking establishments.
Paul Clement, who is representing the challengers, says government buildings and schools would likely qualify as sensitive places, but others would need to be approved on a case-by-case basis.
Justice Amy Coney Barret shot back with, “Can’t we just say Times Square on New Year’s Eve is a sensitive place because … people are on top of each other – we’ve had experience with violence, so we’re making a judgment, it’s a sensitive place?”
If the law gets struck down, it would be the most important gun rights ruling in more than a decade. The court first recognized an individual’s right to keep guns at home for self-defense in 2008. The decision was expanded to the states in 2010.
However, advocates for tighter gun laws say striking down the NY law could result in more gun-related injuries and actually make people less safe.
Justice Stephen Breyer imagined what he referred to as “gun-related chaos”, in which people of “good moral character,” including inebriated fans at a sports stadium, could “end up dead.”
Advocates of the law also say striking it down could lead to less strict gun laws around the country. It could endanger “red flag” lawsuits that are meant to keep guns away from those deemed dangerous by the courts. It could also make it harder to enforce background checks and prevent the spread of “ghost” guns.
Studies show there are around 120,232 firearm injuries in the U.S. each year, or 329 a day, most of which wind up in the ER. The CDC adds that just under 40,000 people die from firearm-related injuries every year. An analysis by the Associated Press says that gun-related injuries send 8,000 kids to the ER every year. The financial burden of these injuries comes out to around $2.8 billion in ED and inpatient charges a year.
Seven other states have gun laws similar to New York’s.
NY Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a statement after the court heard arguments. She said she hopes the court upholds her “commonsense” law and that “having more armed people in public places doesn’t make us any safer.”
The Supreme Court is expected to issue its final ruling in June of next year.