In a landmark decision on Thursday, the US Supreme Court struck down a New York state law restricting people from carrying guns in public without a permit, paving the way for an expansion of the right to carry arms in public in at least six other states which had imposed similar restrictions, even as the country confronts a spurt in mass shootings.
In the majority judgment written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court framed it as a defence of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, saying, “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”
The verdict said that the framers of the Constitution had made a clear choice to allow all Americans the right to bear arms for self defence. The case in question involved two individuals who challenged New York’s decision to deny their requests for unrestricted licenses. While, they claimed it was for self defence, authorities said they had not proven the need for this special protection.
The decision again highlights the impact of a shift in the balance of power on the Supreme Court bench in recent years: all six conservative justices supported the right to carry guns in public, while three liberal judges voted against it.
The verdict comes just weeks after an unprecedented leak of the majority verdict on an abortion case, which indicated that the court is all set to overturn the nationwide protections afforded to abortion as a result of the Roe v Wade decision of 1973. This will open doors for states to ban or circumscribe abortion rights.
The decision comes even as a hate crime in Buffalo in New York, which killed ten people, and a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers, triggered public outrage and even led to a rare, bipartisan Senate deal on a limited set of gun control measures.
By early June, US had already witnessed 250 instances of mass shootings this year. Last year, there were more than 750 mass shootings, a jump from 611 in 2020, according to a report in the Washington Post.
President Joe Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” by the verdict.
“More than a century later, the United States Supreme Court has chosen to strike down New York’s long-established authority to protect its citizens. This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” Biden said in a statement.
He said that the Second Amendment was not an absolute right and states had regulated who may purchase or possess weapons, the types of weapons they may use, and the places they may carry those weapons.
“And the courts have upheld these regulations. I call on Americans across the country to make their voices heard on gun safety. Lives are on the line,” he added.
New York governor Katherine Hochul called the verdict “deeply shocking” and promised a legislative measure to impose new restrictions on the ability of citizens to carry guns in sensitive locations, allow businesses and private property owners to set their own restrictions, and create a permit process for gun ownership.
The National Rifle Association called the verdict a “watershed win”.