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Supreme Court strikes down New York gun control law in major gun rights victory

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STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state gun control law that required gun owners seeking a license to carry a concealed handgun to demonstrate a "proper cause" to do so.

In a 6-3 ruling for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the Court reversed lower court decisions upholding New York's law and delivered the most significant victory for gun rights in more than a decade.

New York's state law required people who want to carry concealed handguns outside their homes to show a "proper cause" for having a license to do so. State courts had ruled that gun owners needed to show more than a general desire for protection in order to obtain a concealed carry license; they could not just claim they wanted it for self-defense.

Two men, Brandon Koch and Robert Nash, applied for unrestricted licenses to carry a handgun in public, claiming they wanted to carry their firearms for self-defense. New York rejected their application, asserting they had failed to meet the state's "proper cause" requirement. They sued and fought the case through lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court declared New York's law unconstitutional on 14th Amendment grounds, saying that New York prevented law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

"In this case, petitioners and respondents agree that ordinary, law-abiding citizens have a similar right to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense. We too agree, and now hold, consistent with Heller and McDonald, that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home," the court said. "Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State's licensing regime violates the Constitution."

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the majority opinion for the court, writing, "The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not 'a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.'"

"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."

The three liberal justices dissented and said they would have upheld the law.

Reacting to the decision, New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul called it "shocking."

"[It is] absolutely shocking that they have taken away our right to have reasonable restrictions — we can have restrictions on speech. You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater. But somehow there's no restrictions allowed on the Second Amendment," Hochul said.

Editor's note: This article was updated with additional information on June 23, 2022 at 11:25 a.m. ET.

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