The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in the first major Second Amendment case it has taken up in more than a decade. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Court is considering state law in New York that has severely restricted the right of citizens to carry concealed weapons for over one hundred years.
New York law uses a “may issue” standard for licensing citizens to carry. That means that an applicant is required to convince an official of the state that they have some good reason or “proper cause” to carry a weapon. This rule writes away the Second Amendment and allows only a special few to exercise their rights to self-defense.
Several other states and cities around the country use the same “may issue” standard. Courts have usually found that a citizen must show some particular need to obtain a permit. A general desire to engage in ordinary self-defense is not nearly enough.
Two men who were denied ordinary New York permits and a gun-rights group brought the case now pending in the Supreme Court. The district court initially dismissed the case, and a federal appeals court upheld that decision. The Supreme Court allowed the plaintiffs to appeal the decision to decide on the constitutionality of the New York permit law.
During the arguments, Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed concern about leaving decisions about permits in “may issue” jurisdictions up to the whim of some administrator. He asked about his concern that “too much discretion” over fundamental rights leads to “all sorts of problems.” He pointed out that the states that do not use New York’s method do not have “a lot more accidents and crime.”
Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out to the lawyers arguing that constitutional rights do not have to be justified to the state. Instead, he correctly observed that if the state wants to take away a constitutional right, “they have to justify it.”
Justice Samuel Alito observed that denying people the right to carry without a “special need” puts them in a vulnerable position against criminals possessing weapons or simply intent on imposing violence and bodily harm. He asked how that could be “consistent with the core right to self-defense” that is protected by the Second Amendment.
Now that oral arguments have been completed, the Court’s final decision and the Justices’ written opinions are expected next summer. Even if the Court strikes down the New York law, the question remains as to whether the justices would announce a broad rule against “may issue” permit standards nationwide.