The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association when it decided that New York state violates the Second Amendment by requiring gunowners applying for concealed-carry licenses to prove they have a worthy need to carry guns in public. It’s the first major decision on gun rights in more than a decade.
The 6-3 ruling was led by Justice Clarence Thomas, who said, “New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.”
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote. “That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self defense.”
Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented.
The gun-rights group – a New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association – had sued the state of New York over the state’s “proper cause” requirement for granting concealed carry gun licenses. The requirement forced applicants to prove that they had a “proper cause” despite failing to define what “proper cause” means under state law.
Other than New York, five other states require gun owners to prove their need for obtaining a concealed carry permit, including California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Maryland.
Thomas maintained that the “proper cause” requirement prevented eligible, law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense. He noted that the right to do so is protected by both the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.
In Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s separate concurring opinion, he wrote that New York’s concealed carry licensing law was “constitutionally problematic because it grants open-ended discretion to licensing officials.” This discretion then resulted in applicants being denied for self-defense reasons, which they could not prove as special need.
“New York’s law is inconsistent with the Second Amendment right to possess and carry handguns for self-defense,” Kavanaugh said.
However, Kavanaugh noted that objective requirements for concealed carry gun licenses – unlike New York’s – do not infringe on Second Amendment rights.
“43 States employ objective shall-issue licensing regimes. Those shall-issue regimes may require a license applicant to undergo fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements,” Kavanaugh wrote, deeming those requirements “constitutionally permissible” because they don’t grant “open-ended discretion to licensing officials” and don’t require applicants to prove a special need for the license.
Kavanaugh said the 43 states with objective requirements may continue to require them, but the six states including New York must eliminate open-ended discretionary requirements.
The lawsuit originally stemmed from state resident Robert Nash, whose concealed carry license was granted only for hunting. After his neighborhood was plagued by robberies, Nash petitioned for the license to allow him to carry a gun in public for self-defense. He was denied for not demonstrating his special need for self-defense. He ultimately filed a lawsuit in 2018 to overturn the state’s requirement, and was joined by another resident and the gun group.