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Using a garbled reading of history as a crutch, the U.S. Supreme Court’s supposed textualist conservatives have just managed to codify a cartoon cutout version of the Second Amendment, obliterating New York State’s concealed carry firearm permitting system. We will mince no words: This will cost the lives of civilians and police officers, as almost anyone in New York City will now be free to carry a gun. At a time when the proliferation of weapons is already killing record numbers of Americans, the nearly absolutist right of self-defense the majority canonizes will become a right to societal suicide.
It’s just 27 simple words written in 1789: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the six-member majority, brazenly ignores that first clause and renders the second in the most expansive terms imaginable.
With all the incisiveness of a junior high school student, he states: “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.” By this principle, there’s just about no weapon that can be restricted in hardly any place, so long as a man with his finger on the trigger can credibly assert the need to protect himself. Indeed, with ever more Americans carrying ever more guns, the psychological need to carry ever more powerful weapons only escalates.
Most appallingly, though the challenge was to a New York law, the majority doesn’t give two shakes about the implications of its absolutism for the nation’s most populous city, which happens to be battling an upsurge in shootings due in large part to the easy availability of weapons. The word “subway” doesn’t appear once in Thomas’ 63 pages.
It is left for an exasperated Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent, to ask: “What about subways, nightclubs, movie theaters, and sports stadiums? The Court does not say.” Nor, he points out, does the majority stoop to grapple with the nature or severity of gun violence in America — gun violence that, no coincidence, is far, far less severe in states like New York, which have more restrictive permitting systems. New York’s gun death rate is 5.3 per 100,000 people. Mississippi’s, Louisiana’s and Wyoming’s are all north of 25 per 100,000.
Conservatives typically revere states’ rights. Here, they obliterate them. Conservatives typically decry those who speak of a “living Constitution.” Here, they choose one that licenses dying.
At least the majority affirms the theoretical right for localities to forbid public carriage in “sensitive places” — until the next legal challenge, anyway. New York must immediately so designate subways, buses, places of worship, Times Square, Union Square, Central Park, and all other places where large numbers of people gather.
But it’ll be one thing to put up “no guns” signs around sensitive places and quite another for the Police Department to actually enforce such restrictions when even ensuring compliance with a mask mandate has been burdensome, and the difference between legal and illegal carry has suddenly grown blurry. God help us.
Gov. Kathy Hochul must immediately recall the Legislature to salvage what remains of New York’s gun safety regime. And Mayor Eric Adams must huddle with his NYPD commissioner to develop a battle plan. The Supreme Court would render our city a free-fire zone. We must fight back.