WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the rights of gun owners to carry a loaded weapon in public, ruling that the Second Amendment right to “bear arms” overrides laws in New York and California that restrict who may legally take guns when they leave home.
The court’s conservative majority said in a 6-3 ruling that the Constitution puts these decisions in the hands of gun owners, not with local officials, county sheriffs or others who fear that too many guns on the street are a threat to public safety.
Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said the Constitution’s Second Amendment “protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
New York, like California, limits who may obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but Thomas said such a restriction is unconstitutional because “it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.”
The ruling casts legal doubt on some of California’s gun laws, considered among the strictest in the nation.
Some — such as banning guns in certain places or situations, or restricting access to those with criminal records — aren’t likely to be affected by the ruling, which says the government’s ability to ban guns in “sensitive places” is “settled” law.
But limits on carrying weapons outside the home are expected to face legal challenge.
The ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen is the most significant victory for gun rights since 2008, when the justices for the first time ruled the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to have a gun and not just states’ right to maintain a “well-regulated militia.”
It also reflects how President Donald Trump’s three appointees have shifted the court to the right. In the last decade, the court had turned away challenges to the permitting laws in California and elsewhere. But the arrival of Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett created a majority to bolster the right to carry a gun.
Gun control advocates had said they feared a high court ruling upholding the right to be armed in public could lead to a massive increase in the number of guns on the street in major cities.