It’s about to become easier for New Yorkers to carry guns in public.
For more than a century, someone wanting to pack heat around New York state has had to show they have a special reason for needing protection — not just a general desire to defend themselves. But the Supreme Court has now ruled 6-3, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, that this is an unconstitutional infringement upon the right to keep and bear arms.
It’s a landmark case, settling — at least, perhaps, until liberals retake the Court — the question of whether the right to “bear arms” encompasses the right to carry guns in public for self-defense, with no connection to militia service and no need to assert special circumstances.
Clarence Thomas’ opinion, three concurrences from other conservative justices, and a dissent from the Court’s three liberals take up 135 pages. The document makes for gripping reading for any American who cares about this issue, with careful historical analysis on both deeply divided sides and some important questions left for future cases.
But what does it actually mean for guns in New York?
Many New Yorkers are sure to be upset, not only because they are ideologically anti-gun, but also because New York City is incredibly dense — which makes gunfire especially dangerous, and also allows for better police coverage, reducing the need for citizens to take matters into their own hands.
Certainly, the decision is a victory for gun-rights activists and a defeat for those who want to maintain (or even expand) the state’s famously strict rules. But Big Apple residents shouldn’t panic yet, for two major reasons.
First, while New York no longer may require special reasons for a carry permit, a vast array of other regulations are still permitted. These rules would apply fairly to everyone, as opposed to the discretion-laden status quo, with its attendant bribery scandals.
They include gun bans in “sensitive” areas, as well as onerous fees and training requirements for anyone wishing to carry. The ruling doesn’t spell out the exact contours of what will be upheld under future court challenges — as the dissent pointedly notes, for instance, gun bans in “subways, nightclubs, movie theaters, and sports stadiums” are not specifically addressed — but one imagines that New York, of all places, will push these regulations as far as they can go.
New York can minimize the number of people who get permits; ensure that these individuals are as law-abiding, mature, and well-trained as possible; and, at least for the time being, keep (legal) guns out of much of the city’s daily life entirely. A subway gun ban, for example, would not only apply to the subway, but also discourage gun carriage among everyone who regularly uses the subway. Many private businesses can be counted on to ban guns on their property, too, making it even harder for a concealed-carrier to go about his day armed.
And second, much of the rest of the country — including states with large urban areas — has already implemented the “right-to-carry” policies that the ruling requires, with effects on crime rates that are muted and unclear at best.
It is simply not the case that crime explodes (or plummets) when states allow law-abiding citizens to carry guns, and a quarter-century’s worth of research has not managed to nail down what subtler effects, if any, the laws have.
Some studies have found crime-reducing effects (dating back to John Lott’s lightning-rod “more guns, less crime” results, published in the 1990s); some studies have suggested crime-increasing effects (most notably the recent paper from John Donohue and two coauthors); still other studies say there’s no effect at all, or at least none big enough to measure statistically (see, for instance, William English’s reworking of Donohue et al.’s analysis).
New York isn’t quite like anywhere else, of course, but decades’ worth of experience elsewhere should count for a lot. And these other states tend to have laxer requirements for carrying than New York ever would. These days, many don’t even require a permit at all.
Liberal New Yorkers don’t have to like the fact that it will become easier for their fellow residents to carry guns. But instead of panicking about a shocking violence surge that is unlikely to arrive, they can focus on drafting new rules that simultaneously respect two sets of boundaries: the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, and the policy preferences of New York residents.
Robert VerBruggen is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.