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Supreme Court hearing biggest gun rights case in a decade today

A holstered handgun. (Al Behrman/TNS)
November 03, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in a case challenging New York state’s concealed weapons permit process on Wednesday. The case represents the first major gun rights case the court has taken in over a decade.

The gun-rights case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, challenges the state’s rule that it will only issue concealed carry permits to individuals of “good moral character” with “proper cause” for a license. According to the Wall Street Journal, the plaintiffs argue the state’s law is an unconstitutional limit on the second amendment concealed carry permit applicants to provide specific reasons they wish to carry concealed weapons in public that goes beyond their general fear of crime.

New York state has defended its permitting process as a time-tested means of reducing gun violence in the state. The state’s century-old permitting process was put in place in response to gun violence in the early 20th century.

The state argued the law “substantially furthers those urgent goals” of preventing gun violence and said it works “in a tailored manner, by allowing individuals to carry handguns in times and places for which they have established a non-speculative need for armed self-defense, hunting, or target shooting.”

The two gun owners represented in the case, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, applied for unrestricted concealed-carry licenses but were instead given permits that allow them to carry in a limited number of settings. The two are both allowed to carry during off-road backcountry, outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, hiking and camping. Koch is also authorized to carry a concealed weapon “to and from work.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments in the case comes more than a decade after its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court affirmed the Second Amendment describes an individual right to bear arms. The court has been reluctant to take up gun-rights cases in the years following its Heller decision.

In 2015, after the court declined to hear a challenge to a Highland Park, Illinois ordnance banning semiautomatic firearms and “high-capacity” magazines, dissenting Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the majority’s decision not to consider the case had reduced “the Second Amendment to a second-class right.”

A ruling, in this case, could make clear whether or not individuals must demonstrate a specific reason for a state to issue a permit for them to carry a concealed weapon in public.

The plaintiffs argue that New York’s laws limit the ability of average citizens to exercise their right to bear arms.

“New York continues to make it all but impossible for typical, law-abiding citizens to exercise their right to bear arms where the right matters most and confrontations are most likely to occur: outside the home,” the plaintiffs argue.

The plaintiffs further argue that examples of U.S. and English law dating back to medieval times, indicate the default position of English and American laws was one in which individuals had the right to carry weapons in public spaces with only limited restrictions to “dangerous and unusual Weapons” wielded “in such a Manner as will naturally cause a Terror to the People.”

The plaintiffs also argue that more recent restrictions on individual rights to bear arms stem from discriminatory motives and anti-immigrant sentiments. The plaintiffs cited an 1865 Mississippi law preventing freed slaves from carrying firearms and suggest that New York’s licensing law, adopted in 1911, reflected mistrust of new immigrants to the state.

New York argued, by contrast, that after the Civil War, reconstruction authorities and biracial state governments enacted weapons restrictions to protect African-Americans. The state also argued that nothing in the legislative record when the state passed its 1911 law “even remotely suggests [it] was enacted with anti-immigrant intent.”