The Supreme Court just vastly expanded gun rights. Here’s what happens next.

Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda
·5 min read

One in 4 Americans will feel the impact of the Supreme Court's landmark decision to expand gun rights — a ruling that could also affect the Senate's bipartisan gun bill, according to constitutional law experts and gun-safety advocates.

In its first major ruling on a Second Amendment case in more than a decade, the court on Thursday struck down a concealed-carry provision in New York that requires gun owners who want to carry a handgun outside their home to prove that they have a unique need for self-protection.

The justices, in a 6-3 decision, said the century-old restriction was unconstitutional, making it easier now for millions of people to carry handguns in public.

“More guns are coming,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA Law professor who specializes in the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment.

Forced to eliminate proper cause requirements, officials in New York are now scrambling to soften the blow. It’s unclear how much time officials in the state have to implement a new permitting process.

Winkler said the case has been sent back to a lower court, which will likely give the state Legislature some time to adopt a new concealed-carry application system.

In an address moments after the ruling was handed down, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was prepared to call the state Legislature back into session.

“We’re not going to cede our rights that easily," Hochul, a Democrat, said, adding that officials have been preparing for the ruling for weeks with legal and gun-safety experts.

Hochul said leaders have "language we’d like to now enact into law," although it's unclear what the proposed legislation entails.

Winkler and other legal experts said New York could compensate by enacting more onerous restrictions in other areas, including on purchasing requirements and strengthening other concealed-carry requirements, such as firearm training.

But beyond New York, the Supreme Court’s ruling throws into question the validity of comparable concealed-carry restrictions in several other states, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, where applicants must similarly prove to a licensing authority that they have a “good” cause or reason, or a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun.

“It’s a small number of states, but it contains a quarter of the population,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “One in 4 Americans are going to feel the impact of this case.”

In its 135-page ruling, the Supreme Court said that “going forward,” those handful of states “may continue to require licenses for carrying handguns for self-defense,” so long as they follow the less-restrictive requirements used by 43 other states.

Those requirements may include fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, the justices said.

The Supreme Court's ruling technically only directly applies to New York, but its rational applies to all states, Winkler said. That means that while concealed-carry applicants today in states like California and Maryland still must prove proper cause to carry a handgun in public, those days are limited.

The ruling is expected to spark a flood of litigation across the country as gun-rights supporters in other states with firearm restrictions race to the courthouse.

“It’s not the end of this battle. It’s the beginning," Winkler said.

On a national level, the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind its decision also calls into question key provisions of the Senate's bipartisan bill to curb gun violence, including one that provides state funding to implement “red flag” laws, said Winkler and Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, a gun violence prevention group.

The bill cleared a critical procedural vote two hours after the Supreme Court's decision landed. While proponents have lauded it as the first major action by Congress to address gun violence in nearly 30 years, some aspects of the package might now fall under new scrutiny, experts said.

"The court says that only those gun regulations that are consistent with historical gun regulation are constitutionally permissible," Winkler said. "So that means any gun law today that is not very similar to a gun law in the 1800s is unconstitutional."

Red-flag laws, such as one New York enacted in 2019, empowers school administrators, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and family members to pursue court intervention when they believe they know someone who is at high risk of harming themselves or others.

Under the law, a judge could “very quickly” issue an extreme-risk protection order, which could order someone, a minor or an adult, to surrender any firearm, as well as not to try to have or buy any.

Winkler said that while it's a life-saving measure, it's also a "modern invention" that has no historical precedent in the eyes of the nation's highest court.

"If it’s going to be sincerely applied in the future," he said, "those laws will be unconstitutional."

Nationwide, gun-safety advocates said the Supreme Court's ruling will have deadly and far-reaching repercussions.

It follows a string of mass shootings across the country, including one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last month that left 19 children and two teachers dead. It also comes amid heightened concerns for public safety in New York, where a gunman wounded 10 people inside a subway car in April and another shooter killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May.

“This opinion is a death sentence for many more Americans," Volsky said. "These justices have blood on their hand."