New York’s tough gun laws are in the Supreme Court’s crosshairs.
The conservative majority of justices appeared skeptical Wednesday of a New York law that tightly limits who can carry a gun in public places, suggesting they may strike down the statute.
Such a ruling could institute a massive change in gun rights across the country. The case brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association challenges the state’s “proper cause” law for conceal-carry permits, which requires that applicants to show a heightened need for self-defense.
Chief Justice John Roberts noted it was surprising that the constitutional right to bear arms is currently being decided in a discretionary way by the NYPD and judges around the state.
Judge Samuel Alito, meanwhile, noted that there are already “a lot of armed people in New York and on the subways late at night” — they’re just carrying firearms illegally. He noted that doormen and other workers who finish their shifts late at night commute through dangerous neighborhoods yet are not able to carry the weapons, even if they’re scared for their lives.
“How is that consistent with the core right to self defense which is protected by the Second Amendment?” Alito asked of New York State’s Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, who was arguing in favor of the proper cause statute.
None of the conservative judges seemed to lean in favor of the New York law, according to experts.
“I think gun rights advocates have reason to be optimistic here,” said Eric Ruben, a Second Amendment expert and professor at SMU Dedman School. “None of the conservative justices — and right now there are six out of nine on the court — seemed to show that they plan to vote on New York’s side.”
But the judges did want to know what a repeal of proper cause would mean specifically in the concrete jungle of New York City.
Liberal judge Elena Kagan and conservative Amy Coney Barrett alike were eager to hear what nixing the law would mean in areas like Times Square, the subway, the NYU campus or Yankee Stadium.
“What do you believe could be off limits,” Roberts asked attorney Paul Clement, who represents the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. “A university campus? What sort of place do you think they [firearms] could be excluded from?”
“NYU doesn’t have much of a campus,” responded Clement, drawing laughs. Judge Stephen Breyer got serious.
“I think NYU does have a campus,” he started, pivoting to the dangers of a proliferation of weapons in the city.
“You think that in New York City people should have considerable freedom to carry weapons… I think that people of good moral character who start drinking a lot… can get pretty angry at each other, and if each has a weapon, who knows?” he said. “A lot of people end up dead.”
Clement responded that there was no issue with the city and state designating certain areas, like stadiums, universities or government buildings “sensitive places” where firearms would not be permitted.
The oral arguments before the Supreme Court were the first in a major Second Amendment case since former President Donald Trump-appointee Amy Coney Barrett took the bench, extending the conservative majority to 6-3.
“For centuries English and American law have imposed limits on carrying firearms in public in the interest of public safety,” said Underwood.
Roberts went so far as to bring up Son of Sam, the notorious serial killer who terrorized New Yorkers in the 1970s, asking Underwood if fear of his rampage would be a particular enough self-defense claim to warrant a permit to conceal-carry.
“Is that an atypical reason? A justification?” he asked. “Some random person is going around shooting people, I feel I need a firearm even though I didn’t need one before?”
Underwood responded that the murders would probably have to occur near you — like in your parking lot or building.
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