Supreme Court’s Gun Law Ruling 2022: NY Concealed Carry Restrictions Unconstitutional
Did the Supreme Court Strike Down New York’s Gun Carry Licensing Law?
Yes. In a major decision on June 23, 2022, the Supreme Court decided a November 2021 case challenging New York’s law restricting residents from publicly carrying firearms. Although you can technically carry a concealed gun in New York, this is only allowed in limited circumstances with the proper license, namely an unrestricted permit. New York has had some of the most stringent restrictions on carrying concealed guns in the nation. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, et al., the Supreme Court struck down New York’s gun licensing policy for handgun carry permits; specifically, the restriction that unless an applicant can show “proper cause,” they cannot get an unrestricted license to carry a gun outside of the home in New York. The Court ruled that the proper cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by impeding the average person’s ability to carry a firearm in public for the general purposes of defending themselves, a violation of their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
The Legal Challenge to New York’s Law on Carrying Firearms
In the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the plaintiffs challenged New York’s handgun carry law’s advanced threshold for permit applicants. Under the existing model, if you were a New Yorker who simply wanted to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense while in public, this was considered insufficient. To acquire a license to carry in NY, you had to meet a higher bar by illustrating the special circumstances that require you to protect yourself. Perhaps you had been repeatedly threatened by someone else, harassed with threats of injury to yourself, or the demands of your occupation expose you to physical harm on a regular basis. All of these may be considered “proper cause,” which is similar to New Jersey’s now eliminated “justifiable need” requirement for a handgun carry permit.
Notice the word “may” in the above description. When it comes to gun permits, the word “may” carries an enormous meaning. Three words with such great significance, but why? We explore that further below.
The Supreme Court’s Decision on NY Permit Restrictions
The primary issue in the court’s latest case decision was centered on the requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit to carry a handgun outside of one’s residence in the state of New York. New York’s handgun carrying license law was deemed an infringement on citizens’ rights, namely the NY law that those who seek licenses to carry handguns in public places are required to demonstrate a specific need to protect themselves, beyond the general purpose of self-defense. In Bruen, the Court found that by enacting gun regulations obligating citizens to show the exceptional circumstances justifying their need to bear arms for self-defense while in public places, New York prevents them from exercising their fundamental rights under the United States Constitution.
May Issue States: Central to the Latest Concealed Carry Decision
In the Bruen case, the Supreme Court specifically discussed the constitutionality of “may issue” and “shall issue” licensing frameworks. In gun law, particularly in the realm of permitting processes, states may establish regulatory frameworks known as “may issue” or “shall issue.” So what is a “may issue” state versus a “shall issue” state? A may issue state, of which there are currently 6 in the United States, provides for broad discretion among licensing authorities to approve or deny gun permit applications, even for citizens who meet all of the basic requirements to obtain a license.
In a may issue state, a person may submit to a background check, be fingerprinted, consent to a mental health records search, receive the proper training and safe handling education, obtain references to show good character, and provide all of the necessary information for the application, but still be denied based on arguably subjective criteria. In New York, a person has to do more than just satisfy basic requirements, and their reasons for self-defense must not be generalities, if they intend to get a concealed carry license. This is an example of “may issue,” in that those reviewing applications may reject applications on a discretionary basis.
A shall issue state, on the other hand, operates under the presumption that an individual meeting all of the standard licensing criteria “shall” be issued the carry permit they seek. Discretionary decision-making is, thus, restricted. Currently, 43 states in the U.S. are “shall issue,” while 6 are “may issue.” Along with New York, states with may issue models include New Jersey, California, and Maryland.
The Reasoning for the Supreme Court’s Decision in Bruen
The court explained that the discretion provided to those approving or denying gun carry licenses in New York does not abide by constitutional protections. According to the court’s opinion, the proper cause requirement is also a constitutional issue, as it extends beyond an everyday citizen’s right to carry a gun for self-protection. The court referred repeatedly to the prior precedential case decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742 (2010). The Heller and McDonald cases were significant in their findings that the right to keep and bear arms for the purposes of self-defense are protected by the 2nd and 14th Amendments.
Likewise, these landmark court decisions established a standard that all firearms laws and regulations must reflect the historical tradition of the United States as it relates to regulating and restricting firearms. Of course, the proper interpretation of historical firearms tradition is subject to much debate, as the issues of today pose new questions simply not in existence during our nation’s founding. That being said, the court addressed such situations, describing the factors for consideration resulting from the Heller and McDonald decisions. The Court wrote:
“To determine whether a firearm regulation is consistent with the Second Amendment, Heller and McDonald point toward at least two relevant metrics: first, whether modern and historical regulations impose a comparable burden on the right of armed self-defense, and second, whether that regulatory burden is comparably justified. Because “individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right,” these two metrics are “ ‘central’ ” considerations when engaging in an analogical inquiry. To be clear, even if a modern-day regulation is not a dead ringer for historical precursors, it still may be analogous enough to pass constitutional muster.”
The Court reasoned that the Heller decision, with its foundations in the real text of the Second Amendment, and its application of the nation’s historical traditions regarding firearms, should be applied today. The Court then traced the history of Second Amendment challenges and distinguished which interpretations aligned with traditional gun regulation. The Court made it clear that the analysis of Second Amendment challenges should exclusively consider historical gun regulatory traditions, as far back as the nation’s beginnings when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. However, the Court did mention exceptions for “dangerous and unusual” firearms, as well as sensitive places where carrying firearms is prohibited, such as government buildings, courthouses, and schools.
Supreme Court Rules NY Handgun Carry Law Infringes on Constitutional Rights, What is the Potential Impact on Other States?
The latest Supreme Court decision has far-reaching implications for some states across the country, calling into question policies in other “may issue” states like New Jersey. It is important to note that in its opinion, the court specifically affirmed the constitutionality of “shall issue” states, stating that its decision does not impact the 43 states currently operating with shall issue licensing models. As for the 6 states who have adopted may issue policies, the mandatory need for a license to carry a handgun in order to do so is considered valid, provided that such states make application decisions based on objective requirements that applicants must fulfill. This may mean legal challenges and potential changes to other state laws which similarly apply a discretionary standard to an otherwise objective list of requirements and criteria to obtain a license to carry a handgun.
The fate of gun licensing laws in America on a state-level hangs in the balance for certain states like New Jersey following this highly significant court decision by the highest court in the land. Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Attorney General Directive No. 2022-07 was issued in the state of New Jersey on June 24, 2022. The Directive’s subject “Clarifying Requirements For Carrying Of Firearms In Public,” provides guidance to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors that justifiable need no longer applies as a necessary condition for a permit to carry a handgun.
Questions abound as to each state’s response to this ruling, while the reverberations of critical firearms legal interpretation looms large. No doubt, firearms laws and regulations will continue to incite passions on both sides of this ongoing debate. As for the landmark gun cases and legal challenges to come? Only time will tell.
If you have questions about New Jersey’s laws on carrying concealed weapons or you are considering applying for a permit to carry a handgun, the experienced firearms law attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm are your go-to resource for a vast array of legal matters involving guns and weapons issues, as well as the latest changes and updates to the state’s gun laws. Having assisted thousands of clients in New Jersey with gun permit applications and appeals, weapons forfeiture matters, extreme risk protective orders, and other complex cases where one’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms is in question, our team is exceptionally equipped to assist you with your pressing questions and concerns, and help you navigate the legal process en route to a favorable outcome. Contact (201) 614-2474 24/7 to talk to a lawyer free of charge.