Last month the US Supreme Court made a major decision on gun rights. The change in law will have a significant impact on the right of people to carry firearms in self-defense. But as with many Supreme Court decisions, there are questions on how the highest court’s ruling will impact the states—including Massachusetts and its gun laws.
What happened in the case?
In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, concerned gun owners challenged a New York law making it a crime to possess a firearm without a license inside or outside the home. The law stated that in order to obtain a license for concealed carry outside-the-home, an applicant needed to prove “proper cause” for doing so. The law defined proper cause as “a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” The challengers argued that proving proper cause as the law required was unconstitutional—a violation of the Second Amendment.
How did the Supreme Court rule?
The Supreme Court agreed with the challengers. The law was unconstitutional because it prevented law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from keeping and bearing arms in public for self-defense.
Why did the Court side with the challengers?
The Court relied on previous cases explaining the process of determining if a law violates the Second Amendment. This process requires judges to consider if there is a historical basis to restrict gun ownership. In other words, the Court considers if there is any modern or historical American tradition of limiting firearms ownership and use the way the challenged law was limiting it. Even if a tradition could be identified, the Court then has to evaluate if the burden on gun owners is justified.
After thoroughly reviewing the history of public carry in America, the Court could not find any tradition justifying the New York law’s proper cause requirement. This is why it concluded that the law is unconstitutional.
At the end of the opinion, the Court reminded in a few words that the Second Amendment is not “a second-class right.” Put another way, the Second Amendment is equally important to the other rights in the Constitution—like the First Amendment and the rights a person accused of a crime has at trial. In short, people do not need a “special need” to take advantage of their constitutional rights.
How will the decision impact Massachusetts gun owners?
On the day Bruen was decided Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a statement condemning the decision. She stated that her office believes that state and local governments can regulate public carry. She added that Massachusetts police chiefs can still reject firearms applications on the basis of suitability. Many lawmakers and politicians also rejected the ruling. The decision itself had three justices dissenting.
In any case, the ruling will have an impact on Massachusetts gun laws. Massachusetts, along with five other states and Washington, D.C., have firearms regulations similar to the New York law that the Court struck down. While many lawmakers in the state want to further limit gun ownership rights as a response to mass shootings, they also acknowledge that the laws on the books will have to be altered to meet Bruen.
Massachusetts gun laws currently require individuals to obtain a license to carry a gun in public. They also allow local police chiefs to deny licenses on the basis of suitability, such as for people with criminal histories.
If gun laws in Massachusetts are not appropriately adjusted, there will likely be legal challenges. The area most likely to be challenged is the discretion police chiefs have in denying firearms applications. That discretion could be limited by Bruen, making it easier to appeal rejected applications or limiting the number rejected.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A FIREARMS OFFENSE, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.