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SCOTUS rules restrictions on concealed carry violate the Second Amendment


The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion, ruled that New York's restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms in public violates the Second Amendment. The law that was struck down required licenses to carry guns outside the home and only granted them when the applicant could demonstrate a need. That need was restricted to hunting and shooting spots and to someone like a messenger carrying cash. Joining us now to discuss the implications of this decision is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hi.


FADEL: So Nina, how broad is this ruling?

TOTENBERG: Pretty broad. It abolishes the entire framework of the way gun regulations have been analyzed by the courts in the past. And if you read Justice Thomas' opinion, joined by five other conservatives on the court, you will see that this decision and the history it accounts is extremely broad. But there are hints at some disagreement. So first, if I - if you can read from Justice Thomas' opinion, he says the right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a second-class right. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers that some special need - that there's some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. And it's not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense. New York's law violates the Constitution, he said, in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.

FADEL: Now, some of the other conservative justices wrote concurring opinions. What did they say?

TOTENBERG: The really important one, I think, was written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and joined by Chief Justice Roberts because, among other things, it says that they are joining the Thomas opinion with this understanding. And it outlines what the court's ruling does not do. First, the court's decision does not prohibit states from imposing licensing requirements for carrying a handgun for self-defense. In particular, the court's decision does not affect the existing licensing regimes known as shall-carry regimes, which say we're going to give the gun - let you carry a gun unless some of these conditions make us not give you a gun. Those are employed in 43 states.

The court's decision addresses only the unusually - unusual discretionary licensing regimes known as may-issue regimes that are employed by New York and California, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. And he said that New York's outlier may-issue regime is constitutionally problematic because it grants open-ended discretion to licensing officials and authorizes licenses only for those applicants who can show some special need apart from self-defense. Going forward, he said, the shall-issue states, those will be OK and that New York and the other states can adopt shall-issue regimes.

FADEL: What did the court's liberals say in the dissent in the few seconds we have left?

TOTENBERG: Justice Stephen Breyer in dissent wrote that in applying the approach to New York's law, the court fails to correctly identify and analyze the relevant historical facts. Only by ignoring an abundance of historical evidence supporting regulations restricting the public carriage of firearms can the court conclude that New York's law is not consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.

FADEL: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.