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When the Supreme Court rules on New York’s gun laws, presumably within the next couple of months, pray it doesn’t leave the state defenseless to control a flood of weapons on the streets.
The court is set to rule on a challenge to the laws by two upstate New Yorkers, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, who were denied unrestricted licenses to carry firearms after they failed to show “proper cause,” i.e., a special need for self-protection, as the law requires. They — and other gun-rights advocates — argue that such a requirement places an unconstitutionally high burden on legal gun-owners.
“You don’t have to say, when you’re looking for a permit to speak on a street corner or whatever, that, you know, your speech is particularly important,” noted Chief Justice John Roberts during oral argument. “So why do you have to show — in this case, convince somebody — that you’re entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?”
Yet Roberts and his fellow justices surely know that no amendment is a blank check. Reasonable restrictions can be perfectly constitutional, especially if the public faces grave dangers without them; the Constitution, it’s often said, is not a suicide pact.
And make no mistake: New York, which is in the midst of an alarming surge in gun crimes, needs at least some restrictions on who gets to own and carry guns. Last year, 488 people were murdered in the city alone, many killed by a gun. That’s a whopping 65% spike over 2018, when just 295 were slain. Over the year, 1,857 people were hit by gunfire, and the number of shooting victims this year through April 24, 441, is already up 8.6% over the same period last year.
The last thing New York needs is for every Tom, Dick and Harriet on the street to be carrying.
Moreover, the argument for reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment is hardly new. Indeed, many conservative legal experts support New York’s law, noting that government regulations on guns go back centuries and that the Founders meant for that tradition to continue when they drafted the Second Amendment; never did they intend to provide every American with an unchecked right to carry firearms whenever and wherever they liked.
The Supremes can — must — let New York protect itself, whether by simply upholding New York’s law, or, if they find it unconstitutionally broad (as seems likely based on their questioning during the case), ordering modest tweaks. One possibility: Grant the state the right to limit public spaces where guns are allowed.
But forcing New York to let anyone at all carry a firearm anywhere they want, no questions asked, is a recipe for disaster.