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Supreme Court’s decision to expand gun rights will have deadly repercussions, gun safety advocates warn

"This opinion will result in more guns in public spaces, and more Americans will die," a prominent gun violence prevention advocate said.

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision to expand gun rights will have deadly and far-reaching repercussions, gun safety advocates warned Thursday, condemning the high court’s first major ruling on a Second Amendment case in more than a decade.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices struck down a concealed-carry provision in New York that requires gun owners who want to carry a handgun outside their home to prove they have a unique need for self-protection. The justices said the century-old restriction was unconstitutional, making it easier now for millions of people to carry handguns in public.

“I’m sorry this dark day has come,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in an address moments after the ruling was handed down.

Calling the decision “absolutely shocking,” Hochul said the state would “fight back” by possibly calling a special session of the Legislature and strengthening other aspects of the permitting process.

“We are not powerless to respond to this,” she said.

Mirroring the immediate sentiments of many, Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, a gun violence prevention group, said the justices have "knowingly chosen to increase gun violence in the United States, putting us all at a higher risk of gun injury or death."

"The research is conclusive," Volsky said. "Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. This opinion will result in more guns in public spaces, and more Americans will die."

The high-stakes ruling follows a string of mass shootings across the country, including one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, 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 in May.

"This decision severely undermines public safety not just in New York City, but around the country," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. "The Supreme Court may have made our work harder, but we will only redouble our efforts to develop new solutions to end the epidemic of gun violence and ensure lasting public safety."

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 four Americans are going to feel the impact of this case.”

Gun-rights supporters cheered the conclusion to a yearslong legal battle. Brought on by the NRA-affiliated New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the case came after New York rejected applications of two men for failing to show they have a reason to carry for self-defense that is distinct and unique from the general public.

Those applications are typically approved for people whose job it is to carry large amounts of cash or those who have a restraining order against someone who has a gun, experts say. 

During a November hearing, Barbara Underwood, the solicitor general of New York, argued the limitation in New York keeps guns from flooding densely populated areas, while the challengers argued the state’s denial violated the Constitution.

The Supreme Court agreed with the challengers that New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the 14th Amendment by "preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense."

The Supreme Court has not ruled on a gun-rights case since 2008 and 2010, when it said the Second Amendment protects a citizen’s right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense and that it applies to states.

Critics say the court’s decision to take on a gun-rights case now is largely because of its new 6-3 conservative majority makeup. Their ruling is at odds with President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly urged Congress to pass gun-safety measures, including one that would ban assault weapons and another that would require universal background checks.

In his latest plea to Senate Republicans on June 2, Biden said too many schools and common places “have become killing fields, battlefields here in America.”

On Thursday, Biden said the ruling "contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all."

More Americans died from gunfire in 2020, the most recent year with available and complete data, than at any other time on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were more than 45,000 firearm deaths in 2020, the same year that the FBI conducted nearly 40 million firearm background checks, more than any year on record, according to the agency’s data.

"Young people will die as a result of the Court’s decision," March for Our Lives, a gun-safety advocacy group started by survivors of a 2018 school shooting in Florida, said in a statement.

"At the height of the gun violence epidemic that is the leading cause of death for children, the Court has pinned one arm behind our backs and said that our lives aren’t worth saving," the group said.