The Supreme Court Sets Its Sights on the Second Amendment


Friday, May 14, 2021

The Supreme Court recently announced that it would hear the case of New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett. The case stems from New York gun control laws that place strict restraints on the individual’s ability to carry firearms outside the home. New York law requires members of the public to apply for a concealed carry license before carrying a handgun for self-defense. However, the state places the burden on the person applying for the license to show that “proper cause exists for the issuance” of a permit. The interpretation of this vague statute is left to state licensing officers, who are restricted by the precedent of New York state courts, which mandates that applicants “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” Naturally, this web of bureaucracy makes it remarkably difficult for New Yorkers to carry handguns for self-defense. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the New York case caught the national attention, especially in light of the high court’s limited consideration of Second Amendment issues. Compared to other civil liberties protected in the Bill of Rights, the amount of Supreme Court precedent protecting the right to keep and bear arms is slim. In fact, the only significant federal case law regarding the Second Amendment comes from the Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm for self-defense in the home. Although the Supreme Court applied its ruling in Heller to the states in a subsequent case, the Court hasn’t made any further rulings on the Second Amendment. 

The lack of Supreme Court case law on Second Amendment protections allows state legislatures to adopt their own interpretations of the right to keep and bear arms. Broadly speaking, there are three distinct types of state concealed carry issuance systems: may-issue, shall-issue, and constitutional carry. In constitutional carry states, residents need not apply for concealed carry permits, because the legislatures believe the Second Amendment prohibits the government from requiring citizens to obtain a license to exercise their rights. In shall-issue states, there are certain requirements that individuals must meet to obtain a concealed carry permit. However, in may-issue states, like New York, applicants who meet the given requirements for a concealed carry permit can still be denied by state officials. Differences in state law are usually a valuable component of the federalist structure of government; however, such inconsistencies on questions of constitutional rights are rare. 

Last term, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to hear multiple cases considering whether states that use shall-issue concealed carry permitting were violating the individual right to bear arms. The Court denied a hearing to every Second Amendment case. A year later, with an increased 6-3 Republican-appointed majority, the high court is finally signaling that they will expand on the protections established in Heller.

Gun rights activists are optimistic that the Court’s decision to hear this challenge to New York law is the beginning of a new era of expanded civil liberty protections for the right to keep and bear arms. Whether the originalist majority will fulfill these expectations for more robust Second Amendment protections remains to be seen.

Ben Snead lives in Portland, Oregon, and is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Political Science at the University of Oregon.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Ben Snead

Ben Snead lives in Portland, Oregon, and is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Political Science at the University of Oregon.

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