Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas simply, yet eloquently, laid out his case for why the majority ruled for the plaintiff in NYSRPA v. Bruen.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, NYSRPA, sued the State of New York over New York’s handgun concealed carry permit law. Under the law, police departments had the final authority to grant or deny an application for a concealed carry permit. This discretion was exercised after the permit application was completed – the applicant had already undergone the training and background check requirements before they submitted their application. It placed unelected officials as the sole judge of whether or not someone could exercise their right to self-defense through concealed carrying a firearm outside their own home.
While done under the guise of “public safety” New York’s scheme was fraught with corruption and often discriminated against lower income individuals historically marginalized groups. In their amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid, the Bronx Defenders, and Brooklyn Defender Services wrote: “For our clients, New York’s licensing regime renders the Second Amendment a legal fiction. Worse, virtually all our clients whom New York prosecutes for exercising their Second Amendment right are Black or Hispanic.”
This system of state discretion over constitutional rights was known as a “may-issue” system. The state had the option of whether or not to issue a permit to a qualified applicant. Fortunately, most states prior to the ruling didn’t follow this method. The majority of states, hosting a majority of Americans, are “shall-issue” states. This means if an applicant meets the state’s requirements to receive the permit, the state is obligated to grant them their permit.
In the Southwest, all states, save for one, are “shall-issue” states. This means that the ruling will not have any immediate impact on their gun laws. The lone exception, unsurprisingly, is California. In a shockingly honest press release, California Attorney General Rob Bonta admitted that California’s may-issue permit system was “likely unconstitutional” under the ruling. The Governor of California has promised swift legislative action to change California’s laws in light of the new ruling. Will their changes constitute a full-on embrace of the right to bear arms outside of one’s home? Likely no. Rather, the ruling is the start of a new chapter for Californians who want to exercise their rights to the fullest.
While the law struck down dealt with one facet of exercising Second-Amendment rights, Justice Thomas used his opinion to take lower courts to task over how they have handled other Second-Amendment cases. “Since Heller and McDonald, the Courts of Appeals have devel- oped a “two-step” framework for analyzing Second Amendment challenges that combines history with means-end scrutiny. The Court rejects that two-part approach as having one step too many. Step one is broadly consistent with Heller, which demands a test rooted in the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by history. But Heller and McDonald do not support a second step that applies means-end scrutiny in the Second Amendment context.”
In layman’s terms, lower courts have allowed states to invoke their “purpose” of passing a law when arguing why their law is constitutional in a court of law. This approach was inconsistent with Heller v DC and now is explicitly condemned by Justice Thomas. While NYSRPA v. Bruen was a ruling over may-issue handgun concealed carry laws, the framework courts must adopt could have far-reaching implications for Second-Amendment laws and litigation.
“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” Justice Thomas, and the Supreme Court, ruled correctly in NYSRPA v. Bruen. In order to exercise our right to bear arms, as described in the Second-Amendment, our rights cannot end at our property lines.
(Disclaimer: New York State Rifle and Pistol Association is a “sister” organization of New Mexico Shooting Sports Association of which I am the President of.)