In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, decided late last week, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense. Prior to Bruen, it wasn’t certain that the Second Amendment did protect such a right. As with most rights protected by the federal constitution, the right to keep and bear arms is not absolute. The government can, and does, enact reasonable legislation that limits the right.
Bruen concerned the licensing requirement in the state of New York. In New York, a private citizen must be issued a license to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. The licensing scheme required, among other requirements, that a person show a “proper cause” for issuing a license for general carrying of a handgun in public. The “proper cause” requirement mandated that the person show a good and particularized reason for needing to carry a handgun for self-defense. A general concern for safety was not deemed sufficient.
The Supreme Court held that New York’s “proper cause” requirement violates the Second Amendment as it places an undue burden on an individual to justify exercising a constitutional right. Several states, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, and New Jersey, also have “proper cause” requirements. Therefore, those requirements are unconstitutional as well.
States can and will still require a license to carry a handgun outside the home. (Not all states require a permit to carry handguns, however). But the licensing process cannot require an individual to justify to the government why he should be issued a license. Instead, the Second Amendment created a presumption of liberty whereby the government must justify the infringement upon individual liberty. If an individual meets a list of objective criteria determined by the state (which vary from state to state), then the state must permit carrying a handgun outside the home for self-defense.