The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling Thursday, struck down key provisions of New York State’s firearms law, one of the nation’s most restrictive, making it easier for licensed owners to bring concealed handguns into public spaces.

The high court, split along its usual ideological lines, ruled New York’s framework for granting concealed-carry handgun permits gives too much discretion to licensing officers, usually a local judge or law enforcement agency, in violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The decision will most certainly mean more handguns in public spaces, especially in New York City, where unrestricted carrying permits are especially hard to obtain. New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and California are among the handful of states with similar rules, along with the District of Columbia, compelling looser restrictions there as well.

New York officials have long credited the state’s strict permitting regime as key to maintaining public safety in densely populated areas, none more so than New York City, statistically one of the nation’s safest big cities, notwithstanding pandemic-era rises in gun violence.

New York will now have to fall in line with carrying laws in place in the majority of states, where concealed-carry permits are decided by mostly objective tests, such as the applicant’s meeting minimum age and background checks, or where no carrying permit is required at all by licensed handgun owners.

The ruling builds upon a 2008 Supreme Court decision that found a constitutional right under the Second Amendment to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense. The court now emphatically extends that right into public places, forcing officials in tight gun-control states to adjust – even as the nation recoils from a string of high-profile mass shootings.

“Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self defense, we conclude that the State's licensing regime violates the Constitution," said the court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas and joined by the court's conservative majority.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by the court's two other liberals, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said the court should have remanded the case to the lower courts for more discovery on the basis for New York's tough concealed-carry law. "New York's Legislature considered the empirical evidence about gun violence and adopted a reasonable licensing law to regulate the concealed carriage of handguns in order to keep the people of New York safe," Breyer wrote.

Here’s what we know now about ruling:

What did the justices decide?

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen, the court ruled the state's discretion-laden framework for granting permits to carry concealed handguns in public impermissibly infringes upon the rights of citizens to attend to their "ordinary self-defense needs,” as protected by the Second Amendment. Lower court rulings had upheld New York’s restrictions.

What did the court say New York got wrong?

The conservative majority struck down, as applied, the state’s “proper cause” requirement that an applicant for a concealed-carry permit show a special need for self-defense, concluding that the New York rule grants too much discretion to permitting officers, usually a local judge, sheriff or police. The court said states can keep such “proper cause” requirements, but the restrictions must conform to some objective standard.

When does the order take effect?

Not immediately. The court reversed the judgment of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded the case "for further proceedings consistent with this opinion." That will buy time for city and state officials to fashion a promised legislative response to the ruling. Additionally, under Supreme Court rules, either party to a case has 25 days to ask the court for a rehearing, unless the court or a justice shortens or extends the window. In the meantime, New York officials emphasized that the decision did not automatically entitle any legal handgun owner to exceed the bounds of their existing restrictions. Illegal gun owners, city officials noted as well, have no right to carry or possess a firearm under any permitting regime.

What does it mean to New Yorkers?

Most certainly more legal handguns in public, especially in New York City and other densely populated areas, where officials acknowledge unrestricted concealed-carry permits have been harder to obtain than in rural communities. New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and California, are among states with similar laws, along with the District of Columbia.

Does this mean more handguns in the subway?

That’s one place in particular about which New York officials worry. Limiting the discretion of licensing officers to deny or restrict public carrying permits will mean more guns in crowded subways, albeit by legal owners. New York bans weapons of all kinds, including firearms, on subways and buses, but exempts police and “persons to whom a license for such weapon has been duly issued and is in force (provided in the latter case the weapon is concealed from view).” Commuter trains like Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road follow similar rules.

Who challenged the law?

Two Albany-area gun owners sued after they were denied unrestricted concealed-carry handgun permits for self-defense, and instead were granted restricted carrying permits for target shooting and hunting. They argued that New York treated their fundamental right to self-defense as a mere privilege.

How does the ruling mesh with prior Supreme Court rulings?

The decision builds upon the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, where the court found a constitutional right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense. Now the court has emphatically extended that right more fully into public places.

How has New York’s approach differed from concealed-carry laws elsewhere?

New York is a “may issue” or discretionary state that keeps a tight lid on the kinds of unrestricted concealed-carry permits sought by the challengers. Most states are “shall issue” regimes, allowing concealed-carry for self-defense by anyone who meets an objective test, such as a minimum age requirement and passing criminal and mental health background checks. And a growing number of states are “constitutional carry” regimes, allowing concealed-carry by licensed owners with no permit requirement at all. Notably, however, the majority opinion lumps the "shall issue" and "constitutional carry" regimes into a single category, obliterating any distinction between the two, a consideration criticized in Breyer's dissent.

What did the court decide about laws banning concealed carry in “sensitive places”?

The court did not disturb – and was not asked to decide on – existing state and federal laws barring weapons from “sensitive places,” such as schools, courthouses, government buildings, college campuses, state and national parks and airports. But many – including the justices themselves in oral argument – forecast this as the next legal battleground: How far can governments go in banning concealed-carry in public places? The majority opinion makes plain that there are limits, with Thomas writing, "there is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a 'sensitive place' simply because it is crowded and protected generally by the New York City Police Department."

Is there anything New York can do to blunt or limit the impact of the ruling?

New York public officials including Democrats Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg all criticized the ruling and promised a legislative response. New York officials have touted bills making more public venues entirely off-limits to firearms – including by handgun owners with carry permits. Once more, the court left for another day guidance on just how far such "sensitive places" limitations can go, with regard to public spaces. Many private venues already prohibit handguns.

How does this decision affect carrying laws in other states?

Most states — 43 by the court's count — won’t have to do anything different as most already allow concealed-carry as a matter of right to legal handgun owners. Nonetheless, some two dozen attorneys general from other states signed onto an amicus brief opposing the New York law, “to safeguard their citizens’ fundamental rights, including their right to bear arms in self-defense outside the home.” New York State doesn’t grant reciprocity for carrying permits issued elsewhere; likewise, New York City only fully recognizes permits issued in the five boroughs.

Will the court’s ruling make us safer?

Attorneys general critical of New York’s restrictive law credit their states’ easier-access regimes with “statistically significant reductions in some types of violent crime” or “no statistically significant effect on violent crime,” notwithstanding a steep increase in concealed carrying in recent years. Nationwide, the number of concealed-carry permits increased from 4.6 million in 2007 to 12.8 million in 2015, according to the amicus brief the attorneys general filed in the case. That figure soared to 21.5 million in 2021, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center. But most of the authoritative research points in the other direction.

  • The nonprofit Violence Policy Center predicts that undoing New York’s law will unleash “potentially catastrophic consequences,” including injury and death to innocent people. The VPC web site tracks “hundreds of examples” of non-self-defense killings by concealed-carry permit holders over the years.
  • The Giffords Law Center, a non-profit that tracks and analyzes gun laws in all 50 states, concludes: “The correlation is undeniable: states with stronger gun laws have lower gun death rates.”
  • And social scientists and public health researchers, in an amicus brief submitted in support of concealed-carry restrictions like those in place in New York, wrote that the repeal of such licensing laws “threatens public safety in communities most vulnerable to gun violence.” Tight rules, they wrote, “are associated with lower overall homicide rates.” In New York in particular, “the Black victim homicide rate from 2015 to 2019 was less than half the national average.”