The 6-3 ruling was the court’s second important decision on the right to “keep and bear arms.” In a landmark 2008 decision, the court had said for the first time that the amendment safeguards a person’s right to possess firearms, although the decision was limited to keeping guns at home for self-defense.
The court has now taken that ruling to the next step after years of ducking the issue and applied the Second Amendment beyond the limits of homeowners’ property in a decision that could affect the ability of state and local governments to impose a wide variety of firearms regulations.
The decision, which came as Congress advanced the most significant gun violence prevention legislation in almost 30 years, involved a New York law that required showing a special need to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public. The state bans carrying handguns openly, but it allows residents to apply for licenses to carry them concealed.
The law at issue said, however, that permits could be granted only to applicants who demonstrated some special need — a requirement that went beyond a general desire for self-protection.
Gun owners in the state sued, contending that the requirement made it virtually impossible for ordinary citizens to get the necessary license. They argued that the law turned the Second Amendment into a limited privilege, not a constitutional right.
The court agreed with the challengers and struck down the heightened requirement, but it left the door open to allowing states to impose limits on the carrying of guns.
“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 Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”
In the ruling’s most far-reaching language, Thomas said concern for public safety isn’t enough to justify new gun controls.
“The government must affirmatively prove that its firearm regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms,” he wrote.
Experts on gun laws said that part of the ruling sets a high bar for further gun restrictions.
In a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the ruling does not bar states from imposing licensing requirements for carrying handguns for self-defense, such as fingerprinting, background checks and mental health records checks.
New York’s law was “problematic because it grants open-ended discretion to licensing officials and authorizes licenses only for those applicants who can show some special need apart from self-defense” — in effect, denying citizens the right to carry a gun to protect themselves, he wrote.
In a dissent joined by liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Stephen Breyer mentioned recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York, and elsewhere, saying it is “often necessary” for the court to consider gun violence in deciding Second Amendment issues.
“The dangers posed by firearms can take many forms,” Breyer wrote. “Newspapers report mass shootings occurring at an entertainment district in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3 dead and 11 injured); an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas (21 dead); a supermarket in Buffalo, New York (10 dead and 3 injured); a series of spas in Atlanta, Georgia (8 dead); a busy street in an entertainment district of Dayton, Ohio (9 dead and 17 injured); a nightclub in Orlando, Florida (50 dead and 53 injured); a church in Charleston, South Carolina (9 dead); a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (12 dead and 50 injured); an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut (26 dead); and many, many more.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.