Lhe United States Supreme Court struck down a New York state gun law, enshrining the right of Americans to leave their homes armed. This decision, taken on Thursday June 23 by a majority of six out of nine judges, all conservatives, comes as the country is still reeling from a series of deadly shootings, one of which, on May 24, killed 21 people. in an elementary school in Texas.
“The Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside of his or her home,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. The Court acts “without considering the potentially fatal consequences of its decision”, regretted its progressive colleague Stephen Breyer in a separate argument, recalling that in 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms.
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The powerful arms lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), immediately hailed a “victory”. The decision, on the other hand, represents a strong snub for the supporters of a better regulation of firearms, whose efforts it will complicate. Concretely, it relates to a law which, since 1913, has limited the issuance of permits to carry concealed weapons to people who have reason to believe that they may have to defend themselves, for example because of their profession or threats against them. It had been challenged in court by two gun owners, who had been denied permits, and an NRA affiliate.
Nearly 400 million weapons among the civilian population
The NRA advocates for a literal reading of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ratified in 1791, it states that a well-organized militia being necessary for the security of a free state, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled that it protected the right to use arms as part of a law enforcement force, such as the military or police, but was not an individual right to self defense. She changed her position in a historic judgment in 2008 and established for the first time a right to possess a weapon in her home for self-defense. It has, however, left it to cities and states to regulate out-of-home transportation, so the rules vary widely from place to place.
Thursday’s judgment puts an end to this latitude by setting in stone the right to carry a weapon. As a first step, it should bring down laws similar to that of New York in force in other states, including some very populated like California or New Jersey. Other restrictions in force mainly in Democratic states could be challenged in court under this new legal framework. Nearly 400 million guns were in circulation among the civilian population in the United States in 2017, or 120 guns for every 100 people. Last year, more than 20,000 gun homicides were recorded on the Gun Violence Archive.
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