The US Supreme Court has recognised a constitutional right for individuals to carry firearms in public for self-defence, striking down a New York state law in a decision that comes amid a fraught gun-control debate after a number of deadly mass shootings.
The 6-3 decision on Thursday held that New York’s requirement for an individual to show “proper cause” to carry a concealed gun in public was unconstitutional.
The majority opinion, authored by justice Clarence Thomas and joined by the court’s other five conservative justices, said New York’s licensing regime violated the 2nd and 14th Amendments “in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defence needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms”.
The court’s three liberal justices dissented in an opinion written by Stephen Breyer. They argued that New York had “adopted a reasonable licensing law to regulate the concealed carriage of handguns in order to keep [its people] safe”, and warned of the majority opinion’s “potentially deadly consequences”.
The decision will have consequences for one of the most socially and politically divisive issues in the US — gun control — in a country that has systematically failed to rein in gun violence.
It comes after several fatal mass shootings including last month’s attack at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which an 18-year-old man gunned down two teachers and 19 pupils. In another mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old white supremacist was accused of using an assault rifle to kill 10 black shoppers at a local supermarket.
Kathy Hochul, the Democratic governor of New York, called the ruling “absolutely shocking” and vowed that the state would “fight back”.
Eric Adams, the city’s mayor and former police captain who has blamed the widespread availability of guns for the rise in violent crime, said in a statement: “Put simply, this Supreme Court ruling will put New Yorkers at further risk of gun violence.”
New York City and state officials have for months been bracing for Thursday’s ruling, trying to prepare alternative measures that would maintain restrictions on firearms while still passing legal scrutiny. Yet without knowing the specifics of the court’s ruling, this has proved challenging.
In her remarks, Hochul suggested the state might introduce restrictions on sensitive locations where concealed firearms could not be carried, require training, or give businesses and property owners more authority to ban guns on their premises. “We have a lot of ideas,” she said.
The ruling comes after a bipartisan group of US senators earlier this month reached a tentative deal on gun-control measures which, though modest, would amount to the most significant restrictions in decades if enacted.
US president Joe Biden said in a statement he was “deeply disappointed” by a ruling that “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all”. He also urged states “to continue to enact and enforce commonsense laws to make their citizens and communities safer from gun violence”.
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington