WASHINGTON - In the coming weeks, with the nation reeling from mass shootings in New York and Texas, the Supreme Court is set to issue a major decision on what states may do to limit carrying guns in public. Based on the justices' questions when the case was argued in November, they are likely to strike down a New York law that requires people seeking a license to carry a handgun in public to show a "proper cause."
The decision will be the court's first significant statement on the scope of Second Amendment rights outside the home. In 2008, in ruling that the amendment protects an individual right untied to militia service, the court said only that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to keep guns in their homes for self-defense.
The new case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, is a test of constitutionality laws requiring licenses for carrying guns in public. California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have laws similar to the one in New York.
At the argument, several justices said the New York law imposes an intolerable burden on the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
"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," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "So why do you have to show in this case, convince somebody, that you're entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?"
But several justices seemed open to allowing the state to exclude guns from crowded public settings or other sensitive places.
Indeed, the 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, indicated that the court would be prepared to sustain at least some gun control laws, including ones banning guns in schools.
"Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms," Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, wrote for the majority.
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