“Everybody got a pistol. Everybody got a .45. And the philosophy seems to be — at least as near as I can see — ‘When the other folks give up theirs, I’ll give up mine.’”
That’s a line from the Gil Scott-Heron song, “Gun,” a 1981 critique of gun violence in America. Unfortunately, a majority of Supreme Court justices don't seem to have taken it to heart. On Wednesday, the court sounded likely to strike down a New York law that prohibits individuals from carrying concealed handguns in public if they don’t have “proper cause” to carry.
New York doesn’t allow people to carry handguns openly, but residents can obtain a concealed carry permit if they can prove they face a “special or unique danger to their life.”
If the law is struck down, the number of secretly strapped New Yorkers could rise rapidly. Other states around the country with similar requirements for gun owners will likely see challenges to their laws, as well, should the court toss the New York law.
Some of the court’s conservative justices, who hold a 6-3 majority on the bench, disputed New York’s proper cause requirement Thursday.
“Why isn’t it enough to say, ‘I live in a high-crime area, and I want to defend myself?” Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked Wednesday after opening arguments.
There’s little doubt Kavanaugh wants to gut the New York law. In 2011, gun rights activists challenged a Washington, D.C., ban on semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the plaintiffs. But Kavanaugh — then a judge for the appellate court — dissented, saying the ban was unconstitutional.
In Wednesday’s arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts sounded ready to end the New York law. “The idea that you would need a license to exercise a right is unusual with regard to the Bill of Rights,” he said.
In one exchange with New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, conservative Justice Samuel Alito tried to paint a grim picture of New York to make his argument that more people should be allowed to secretly carry guns.
″There are a lot of armed people on the streets of New York and in the subways late at night right now, aren’t there?” he asked. “All these people with illegal guns, they’re on the subway, they’re walking around the streets. But the ordinary, hard-working, law-abiding people I mentioned — no, they can’t be armed.”
In response, Underwood argued that “the idea of proliferating arms on the subway is precisely, I think, what terrifies a great many people.”
If the Supreme Court ultimately decides to strike down New York’s concealed carry law, those terrifying thoughts would be made real. New Yorkers would soon be allowed to carry guns discreetly throughout the city, with less oversight than ever before. And other cities across the country are likely facing a similarly frightening future.
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