WASHINGTON • The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Americans have a fundamental right to carry firearms in public, in a landmark decision that will prevent states from restricting people from carrying guns.
The 6-3 ruling, with the court's conservative justices in the majority and liberal justices in dissent and which comes as the country grapples with a shocking surge in gun crime, strikes down a New York law that required a person to prove he had legitimate self-defence needs to receive a gun permit.
"The Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual's right to carry a handgun for self-defence outside the home," said Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion.
"New York's proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defence needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defence."
Under the New York law's "proper cause" requirement, applicants seeking an unrestricted concealed carry permit must convince a state firearms licensing officer of an actual, rather than speculative, need for self-defence. Officials could also grant licences restricted to certain activities, such as hunting or target practice.
New York's governor Kathy Hochul said the ruling was frightening and stripped away the state's right to protect its citizens.
"This decision isn't just reckless, it's reprehensible," she said.
But the US' powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, welcomed the Supreme Court decision. "NRA wins SCOTUS case!" it tweeted, using the acronym for the US Supreme Court.
Yesterday's decision represents the court's most important statement on gun rights in more than a decade. The court in 2008 recognised for the first time an individual's right to keep guns at home for self-defence in a case from the District of Columbia, and in 2010 applied that right to the states.
The new ruling underscored how the 6-3 conservative majority on the court is sympathetic to an expansive reading of Second Amendment rights.
Among other things, the ruling could lead to many more people securing licences to carry concealed handguns in the state, undermine similar restrictions in other states, and imperil other types of state and local firearms restrictions nationwide.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG