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Lawmakers and mayors decry ‘reckless’ Supreme Court ruling on guns

A customer checks out a hand gun on June 23 in Hempstead, New York. (Brittainy Newman/AP)
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Democratic lawmakers vowed to fight back after the Supreme Court struck down century-old restrictions on who can carry concealed weapons in New York, a ruling that is likely to weaken firearm laws in several different states at a time of rising gun violence.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that New York’s requirement that people must show a specific need to carry a concealed weapon was unconstitutional. The law had been in place since 1913. Five other states — California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii — place similar restrictions on the gun permitting process. Those state laws could face imminent legal challenges.

Within minutes of the decision, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) responded with anger: “This decision isn’t just reckless, it’s reprehensible,” she said. “We do not need people entering our subways, our restaurants, our movie theaters with concealed weapons.”

Hochul said the ruling “could place millions of New Yorkers in harm’s way” at a time when “we’re still mourning the loss of lives” in mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex.

She said she planned to call the Democratic-controlled state legislature into special session as soon as next month to enact fresh firearm restrictions. The measures under consideration could include prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons in sensitive locations and at private businesses, as well as raise the training requirements for the holders of such permits, Hochul said.

The Supreme Court on June 23 said New York's gun law was too restrictive and violated the right to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense. (Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post, Photo: Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/The Washington Post)

Supreme Court finds N.Y. law violates right to carry guns outside home

President Biden also denounced the court’s ruling, saying in a statement that it “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all.”

The Supreme Court ruling came on the same day that a bipartisan majority in Congress advanced a package of modest adjustments to existing gun laws, including enhanced background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and the closing of a loophole that had allowed some domestic-violence offenders to purchase weapons.

For officials in liberal areas for whom that rare congressional action was seen as evidence of slight momentum on gun restrictions, the Supreme Court decision proved a bracing reality check.

Experts said that Thursday’s ruling would open the door to a raft of future litigation aimed at weakening firearm restrictions. The current conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court has “emboldened gun rights advocates to push harder than ever,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor. “This case shows they’re likely to be successful.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Thursday’s 6-to-3 ruling was a “dangerous decision from a court hell bent on pursuing a radical ideological agenda.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that “states can no longer decide for ourselves how best to limit the proliferation of firearms in the public sphere,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D). “Let there be no mistake — this dangerous decision will make America a less safe country.”

Perhaps no elected official expressed greater alarm about the consequences of the decision than New York Mayor Eric Adams.

For months, Adams (D) has warned about the potential impact of the case on the nation’s most populous city, saying that the looming ruling was keeping him up at night, even as its contours remained unclear.

On Thursday, after the decision was released, Adams asked his chief legal counsel to rate the decision on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of its level of concern for the city. The answer: “very close to a 10,” Adams told reporters.

“We can say with certainty this decision has made every single one of us less safe from gun violence,” said Adams.

That sentiment was echoed by Keechant Sewell, New York’s police commissioner. “When we open the universe of carry permits, it potentially brings more guns to the city of New York,” Sewell said.

Adams said that in the wake of the ruling, the city would have to review plans to use scanning technology to detect guns in subways. He promised to work with lawmakers at all levels of government in New York to “limit the risk this decision will create.”

Other mayors who condemned the court’s decision included the leaders of Buffalo, Baltimore and Philadelphia. In Buffalo, a city still reeling from last month’s racist attack that left 10 dead, Mayor Byron Brown (I) said he was “disappointed and alarmed” by the ruling.

Earlier this month, New York became the first state to enact new restrictions on guns in the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. The changes included raising the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21. (Both the shooter in Texas and the accused gunman in New York were 18.)

Thursday’s court decision was focused on the regulation of concealed weapons, which differs from state to state. In 25 states, people can carry concealed weapons in public without a permit. The remaining states require a permit, but only six of them — plus the District of Columbia — allowed authorities to deny permits if the applicant is considered unsuitable or cannot demonstrate a specific need.

Republican officials, meanwhile, expressed satisfaction with the ruling. At an event in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2024, praised what he called “a great decision.”

Some states, such as New York, “just do not want people to be able to exercise their rights,” DeSantis said. “And here’s what I would tell you: A lot of the people moving here from there, are doing it because they do not feel safe in a lot of their communities. So, all of their policies have been a total failure when it comes to public safety.”

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor commended the high court for ensuring that the right to bear arms is “not a ‘second-class’ right that can be trampled upon by governments on a whim.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, one of seven Republicans in New York’s 29-member congressional delegation, said in an interview with Fox News that the ruling was “historic” and “a win for law-abiding gun owners.”

Tim Craig in Fort Lauderdale and Emmanuel Felton in New York contributed reporting.

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