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Striking down New York gun law could set a trend

The Supreme Court struck down a New York law this week that limits who can get a permit to carry a gun in public.

WASHINGTON — This week the Supreme Court struck down a New York State law that placed limits on who can get a permit to carry a gun in public. The 6-3 ruling immediately raised questions about similar laws in other states, but in a broader sense, it may have opened the door to other gun rules around the country — which could also be challenged in court.

The New York law required state residents to show they had proper cause to carry a concealed gun in public for self-defense. But in his majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the law prevented “law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.”

The impact of the ruling stretches beyond New York. Five other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws on the books that have now also been called into question and that will be certainly challenged in court.

Those states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, along with D.C. — hold almost 83 million people or about 25 percent of the nation’s population. In other words, even though this ruling impacts a relatively small number of states, it affects a lot of people.

But the impacts stretch far beyond that those states and laws.

A specific part of the majority opinion argued that gun restrictions had to be about more than public safety, they also had to be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” And one might argue that many state laws are not consistent with historical tradition because guns and the laws around them have changed a lot in the last 200-plus years. The New York law that the Court struck down had been on the books for more than a century.

Using the “historical tradition” standard, rules regarding the capacity of ammunition magazines in various states could be challenged. Ten states and the District of Columbia have rules regarding how many rounds of ammo can be in a single magazine.

In nine of those states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — and the District of Columbia, the ban on all large-capacity ammunition magazines applies for use with any firearm. Hawaii’s ban applies only to magazines that can be used with a handgun.

Regardless, if you turn back the clock back far enough, magazine capacity is not an issue with historical relevance and that would seem to make it hard to fit into the nation’s “historical tradition” in terms of regulation.

Another set of laws that could be taken targeted for court action are those around red flags, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and the number of states impacted here is much bigger. There are red flag laws on the books in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The rules around who can petition for a “red flag” vary from state to state. Some allow family members to petition for an order. Some allow people outside the family to seek one. And others only allow law enforcement officials to ask for an ERPO. But in the wake of this week’s Supreme Court, all those laws may well be taken to court as well.

If the phrase “red flag” sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because just this week Congress passed its first new gun legislation in almost 30 years after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas in May. One big part of that bill: Millions of dollars for states to implement red flag laws.

And that’s just two examples of possible laws that could be impacted. There are many others. Rules and regulations around age requirements and so-called assault weapons could also be targeted in the courts to name a few possibilities.

The actions taken this week in two buildings in Washington serve as a reminder that there are indeed three branches of government in the United States, and they aren’t always pulling in the same direction.

For decades, gun control advocates have been trying to get Congress to move on guns. This week they achieved a small victory. But whatever happens under the Capitol dome on guns and on other issues, the actions taken across the street at the Supreme Court will be with us a lot longer.