We’re now less than two months away oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the case dealing with a challenge to New York’s subjective “may issue” carry permitting laws that the Supreme Court accepted back in the spring. The final round of briefs are being submitted to SCOTUS this week, and one of the first to drop comes from 19 Democrat Attorneys General. Led by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the anti-gun coalition features AGs from several “shall issue” states, including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvana, and Virginia. In fact, the Democratic AGs in the Constitutional Carry states of Maine and Vermont have also signed on to the brief, which argues that New York and other states should be able to deny the average resident their right to bear arms.
Amici are States from every corner of our Nation: South, East, West, and Midwest. We are committed to protecting the individual liberties of our residents, including their constitutionally protected right “to keep and bear Arms.” U.S. Const. amend. II. We are also committed to preserving order and protecting public safety within our borders, including by adopting reasonable policies that regulate the carry of firearms on the streets and in the crowded public squares of our cities and towns. The nature of those policies varies between, and sometimes within, the States. That regional variation is consistent with historical practice and with our system of federalism, which affords the States a measure of latitude to craft policies that protect their residents and are tailored to the needs and concerns of their communities.
In other words, while the AGs claim to be committed to protecting the right to keep and bear arms, they want the Court to treat that right like a privilege to be doled out by the State. If a sheriff in California or a judge in New York believes that an applicant for a carry permit hasn’t demonstrated a good enough reason to carry a firearm in self-defense, the AGs argue that they should have the power to deny a permit and prevent that applicant from being able to legally exercise their right to bear arms.
The weakest part of the brief is the argument by Bonta that even in “may issue” states, gun owners can still carry a firearm in certain circumstances.
As an initial matter, many States with licensing regimes allow public carry without a license in certain places and under certain circumstances. In California, for example, law-abiding adults may carry firearms in unincorporated areas that are not in towns or villages, or in any part of incorporated cities or unincorporated towns that are not “public place[s]” or “public street[s].” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25400, 25850, 26350. They may also carry firearms at their own places of businesses, at campsites or other temporary residences, and when hunting, target shooting, or taking a firearm to a repair shop or home from the place of purchase.
Bonta doesn’t mention that under California law, those adults who “may carry” have to do so with unloaded firearms, which negates the ability to use that firearm in self-defense. As for being able to carry at their place of business, how is that any different from being able to carry at home? The core purpose of the Second Amendment, according to the Supreme Court decision in Heller, is self-defense, not hunting, target shooting, or taking a gun to a repair shop, yet Bonta seems to believe that as long as some gun owners can carry an unloaded firearm to a few locations, that satisfies the Constitutional edict not to infringe on the right to bear arms.
The AGs brief points out that many states have had laws regulating and even banning the carrying of concealed firearms dating back to the earliest days of the Republic, but fails to acknowledge that those regulations typically did not touch on the ability to openly carry a firearm. In New York, open carry is forbidden, which means that the only option for citizens to exercise their right to bear arms involves acquiring a permit to carry. Further, New York offers a couple of different permits, but the one that’s most often given out to residents is a “restricted” permit, which precludes the permit holder from lawfully carrying in all but the most limited circumstances. Carrying while hunting, hiking, camping, and target shooting in remote areas may be allowed, but carrying in a dangerous neighborhood is a felony offense.
It’s not a surprise to see Democratic AGs fall in line behind New York’s restrictions, but Second Amendment activists, particularly in the “shall issue” and Constitutional Carry states who’ve seen their own Attorneys General sign on, need to call out this attack on their civil rights. In fact, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and Vermont AG T.J. Donovan are up for re-election next year, and gun owners should make their support for New York’s restrictive carry laws instead of their own state’s Constitutional Carry laws a major campaign issue. Hopefully by the time Election Day rolls around next November the Supreme Court will have already smacked down their anti-civil rights argument, and voters can follow up replacing their anti-gun AGs with ones who’ll respect and fight for their individual rights.