The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state law that had restricted who could obtain a permit to carry a gun in public. Under the law in place since 1913, New York residents needed to show proper cause, or an actual need, to carry a concealed handgun in public for self-defense.
The justices said that law conflicts with the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. It drew swift reaction from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who called the decision reckless and said she was prepared to call the Legislature back into session to form a response.
“We do not need people entering our subways, our restaurants and movie theaters with concealed weapons,” she said. “We don’t need more guns on our streets.”
New York and a half a dozen other states with similar laws now must decide their next steps. As with New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have legislatures controlled by Democrats who could propose measures to ensure that guns will not be allowed in certain places.
Gun rights groups in those states have vowed to continue pushing back against what they view as restrictive gun control laws. Some of those cases eventually could make their way to the nation’s high court. A rundown of the similar laws in the other states:
The court’s ruling will likely affect California’s strict permitting laws, said California’s attorney general and gun owners’ rights organizations.
Attorney General Rob Bonta told California law enforcement agencies in a letter earlier this month that “given California’s similar, ‘good cause’ standard, the decision may impact California laws regarding the carrying of firearms in public places.” He said many aspects of California’s law might remain untouched, despite the ruling.
Nearly two-thirds of California’s 58 counties already eased their standards for granting concealed weapons permits after a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s concealed carry standard in 2014, said attorney Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association.
At issue is the standard that local officials — usually sheriffs, but sometimes police chiefs — use when considering who should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon outside the house. Gun rights advocates say the court overturning the New York law means California must join the 43 states that have what are considered “shall issue” standards. Those generally require officials to issue permits unless there is some reason that an individual should be denied.
Of California’s 58 counties, 37 already grant permits if an applicant requests it for self-defense. That effectively makes them “shall issue” counties, advocates said. The other 21 counties have tighter standards, for example requiring applicants to demonstrate that they have business-related or professional risks that justify them being armed.
Hawaii has among the strictest gun laws in the nation. So strict, said attorney Alan Beck, that Hawaii essentially bans carrying guns outside the home. It has been practically impossible to get a permit to carry a loaded gun in public, he said. In the past 22 years, there have been four permits issued in Hawaii, said Beck, who represents various residents challenging Hawaii gun laws.
The state attorney general’s office has argued that it’s not a flat-out ban because people can carry firearms if they have “good cause.” County police chiefs in Hawaii have had the discretion in determining whether to issue a carry permit, something the Supreme Court now says is too restrictive. Without a carry permit, people have been allowed to keep firearms in the home and can transport them — unloaded and locked up — to firing ranges and other limited locations such as for repairs.
One of Beck’s clients is George Young, a Big Island resident who wants to carry a gun for self-defense. Young doesn’t care if it’s concealed or open carry. The favorable ruling in the New York case means Young’s lawsuit would prevail, Beck said.
The Hawaii Rifle Association anticipates that lawmakers now will work to make it difficult to obtain permits, “whether it’s outrageous training requirements or exorbitant fees,” said Kainoa Kaku, the association’s president.
Under current law, a gun owner in Maryland has to show a “good or substantial reason” to carry a concealed gun. That could include showing a person’s life is in danger from threats or that they work in a job that could put them in contact with people who are dangerous.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said the laws are similar to New York’s, but they take different approaches. He said he was examining today’s ruling to determine its impact on the state.
“Today’s decision means more deaths and more pain in a country already awash in gun violence,” Frosh said in a statement. “If the norm is that people can carry firearms, our neighborhoods, our streets and other public places will become more dangerous. It will make the lives of law enforcement more difficult and more perilous.
“The epidemic of gun violence sweeping our nation demonstrates daily the folly of introducing more guns into this boiling cauldron.”
Opponents to the law in Maryland already have sued, in a case that has been on hold in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, pending the ruling in the New York case.
Massachusetts’ law had given local police chiefs the power to decide whether someone is suitable to have a license to carry a handgun. Police chiefs have been able to deny applicants if they determine that the person would pose a risk to public safety, for reasons such as a history of domestic violence. Those who are denied can appeal to their local district court.
The law says those deemed suitable can get a license to carry if they show “good reason to fear injury” to themselves or their property “or for any other reason,” including “for use in sport or target practice only.”
What’s considered a “good reason” has been up to police chiefs, who vary in what they require of applicants to meet that standard. Some demand that applicants show they have a reason to fear injury that distinguishes them from the general population in order to get an unrestricted license.
Massachusetts courts have ruled that if someone can’t show a “good reason to fear injury,” police chiefs can put restrictions on licenses that limit when someone can carry a firearm.
State Attorney General Maura Healey said Thursday that she stands by the state’s “commonsense gun laws and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce them.” The office has not responded to questions from The Associated Press about to what extent Massachusetts’ law will be affected by the ruling.
New Jersey’s gun laws are among the tightest in the nation and got even stricter after former Republican Gov. Chris Christie left office in 2018. He was succeeded by Democrat Phil Murphy, who signed a handful of new bills into law.
Among them were magazine size restrictions and a red flag law. Getting a carry permit in New Jersey is widely considered difficult, and the state’s “justifiable need” requirement parallels New York’s “proper cause” provision that was just thrown out by the high court.
New Jersey has other provisions to get a carrier permit, including completion of a safety course. There also are categories of people who are barred from owning firearms, including those convicted of certain crimes or anyone committed to a hospital because of mental health issues.
On Thursday, Murphy called the Supreme Court decision tragic.
“Based on a deeply flawed constitutional methodology, a right-wing majority on the United States Supreme Court has just said that states can no longer decide for ourselves how best to limit the proliferation of firearms in the public sphere,” he said. “Let there be no mistake — this dangerous decision will make America a less safe country.”
Nevertheless, he also said his administration believes the state may still be able to decide who can carry concealed weapons and where they can have them.
The New York law struck down Thursday, in place since 1913, said that to carry a handgun outside the home, a person applying for a license had to demonstrate “proper cause,” an actual need to carry the weapon.
The law doesn’t define what proper cause means and gave local officials — often a police department or town justice — discretion when deciding whether to issue licenses. In practice, it meant most applicants had to show a need that went beyond routine public safety concerns, like being in a profession that put them at special risk.
Lawmakers could add new permitting conditions now that the court has ruled, such as requiring firearm training or a mental health evaluation, or disqualifying applicants with certain types of criminal convictions.
Lawmakers also could pass a law specifying where people can’t carry concealed weapons — a list that could include public transit systems, school zones, bars, parks, government offices or polling places.
The state attorney general’s office said there are similarities between Rhode Island’s law and the one in New York that was struck down, but also important differences between the two states’ statutory schemes for concealed carry permits.
Rhode Island has separate laws dealing with permits issued from municipalities and permits issued from the state attorney general’s office. In 2018, the office filed an amicus brief in a case to defend the constitutionality of a Massachusetts gun law, noting that Rhode Island’s concealed carry permit has been upheld by the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The court found that the state constitutional right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, subject to reasonable regulation by the state.
The attorney general and governor’s offices said they would review the Supreme Court decision for its impacts on the state.