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Guns at Yankee Stadium? Supreme Court to rule on case that would allow more weapons on streets of New York

Ruling against 1913 New York law would upend gun restrictions, though justices have concerns

Oliver O'Connell
New York
,Jessica Gresko,Ap
Wednesday 03 November 2021 20:29 GMT
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The conservative-majority Supreme Court appears ready to strike down a law restricting who can carry a gun in New York, though the justices also seem worried that too broad a ruling could pose a threat to restricting guns on subways, in bars and stadiums, and other gathering places.

A 1913 law says that to carry a concealed handgun in public for self-defence, a person applying for a licence has to demonstrate “proper cause”, or an actual need to carry the weapon.

Currently, applicants who get a licence are either issued an unrestricted licence, which gives them broad ability to carry a weapon in public, or a restricted licence allowing them to carry a gun in certain circumstances. Those circumstances include hunting or target shooting, when travelling for work, or when in backcountry areas.

On Wednesday the court heard arguments in what is its biggest guns case in more than a decade, having to decide if the New York law violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms”.

The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, suggested New York’s law goes too far.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked why a person seeking a licence to carry a gun in public for self-defence has to show a special need to do so.

“The idea that you would need a licence to exercise a right is unusual with regard to the Bill of Rights,” he said.

However, Justice Roberts was also among those who pressed a lawyer for the law’s challengers on where guns might be prohibited. Could a football stadium or a college campus be off-limits, he asked.

“What sort of place do you think they could be excluded from? Any place where alcohol is served?” Mr Roberts asked.

Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of New York residents who want an unrestricted right to carry concealed weapons in public, replied that while government buildings and schools might be off-limits, bars “might be a tougher case for the government”.

But answering questions from Justices Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett, Mr Clement suggested that perhaps bans on guns in the New York City subway system, Yankee Stadium, and Times Square on New Year’s Eve might be all right.

The court’s liberals seemed willing to allow the state law to remain in place, especially focusing on differences between rural areas and more densely populated cities and suburbs.

Defenders of the status quo have said that striking it down will lead to more guns on the streets of cities including New York and Los Angeles.

The court last issued major gun-rights decisions in 2008 and 2010. Those decisions established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defence. The question for the court now is whether that right extends to public spaces outside the home.

In most of the country gun owners have little difficulty legally carrying their weapons when they go out. But about half a dozen states, including populous California and several Eastern states, restrict the carrying of guns to those who can demonstrate a particular need for doing so.

The justices could decide whether those laws, known as “may issue” laws, can stand. The opposite is a “shall issue” gun law in which the state issues firearms permits to those who meet permitting requirements and background checks — they do not have to prove “proper cause” for needing a weapon.

The arguments come as gun violence has surged. Gun control groups say if a high court ruling requires states to drop restrictions, the result will be more violence. Gun rights groups, meanwhile, say the risk of a confrontation is precisely why they have a right to be armed for self-defence.

New York says if the Supreme Court sides with the challengers to the law it would have “devastating consequences for public safety”, invalidate longstanding laws like New York’s, and jeopardise firearm restrictions that states and the federal government have in place where people gather, from airports to schools.

The Biden administration, which is urging the justices to uphold New York’s law, says California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all have similar laws that could be affected by a ruling from the court. Connecticut and Delaware also have “may issue” laws, though they are somewhat different.

With reporting from the Associated Press

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