They wasted no time. Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York restrictions on carrying guns in public, gun rights supporters cited the high court’s decision in lawsuits over California’s assault weapons ban and a San Jose law requiring firearm owners to buy insurance, among others.
Though assault weapons and gun insurance might seem to be different issues than permitting concealed firearms, advocates on both sides of the gun debate say the high court’s far-reaching ruling gives defenders of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms more ammunition to fight a wide range of gun laws.
“There’s clearly a very important new precedent, and the higher court will want the lower courts to apply it,” said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a firearms regulation expert.
Matthew Larosiere, legal policy director for the Sacramento-based Firearms Policy Coalition gun rights group, said it’s “going to be a huge challenge” for states to show many of their recent restrictions are consistent with the court’s ruling.
For their part, California and other blue states are firing back with new rounds of laws aimed at restricting guns or access to guns to the extent the decision might allow. This week New York’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, said the state will ban people from taking guns into businesses that don’t post signage that the weapons are welcome. And a bill revising New York’s gun permit rules includes a new bunch of requirements that courts have not yet addressed, including asking applicants for four character references and a list of social media accounts.
A new California weapons-permitting bill includes a host of similar provisions, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised to sign a package of gun bills in response to recent mass shootings.
“California is doubling down on commonsense gun safety measures that save lives,” Newsom said in signing legislation that further restricts untraceable home-made, parts-built “ghost guns” and prohibits marketing guns to kids.
If they agree on nothing else, both sides in the gun rights battle acknowledge the Supreme Court changed the landscape with its June 23 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Kevin P. Bruen, New York State Police Superintendent, which said the state’s rules for permitting concealed guns in public were too subjective and restrictive.
The court said New York violated gun owners’ rights by letting authorities decide if they had a “proper cause” for armed defense outside the home – a limitation, justices noted, that is not placed on those seeking to exercise their rights to free speech, religion and due process – and otherwise prohibiting concealed weapons almost everywhere. The justices said the decision directly affects similar concealed-carry rules in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
But the justices also took issue with an “interest-balancing” test many lower courts had used to evaluate Second Amendment cases, by weighing the interests of gun owners in possessing firearms against the interests of the government in controlling access, in order to promote other societal interests such as safety. In the majority opinion in the Bruen ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas said courts should consider only if a gun law “is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
Almost immediately after the ruling came down, the Firearms Policy Coalition announced it would “soon be filing many more important strategic lawsuits, adding to our dozens of active cases across the United States on key issues from restrictions on the right to carry in public to bans on self-manufacturing firearms and so-called ‘assault weapons’ and ‘large-capacity’ magazines.”
That included the Tuesday filing in Glass v. San Jose over the insurance requirement, where the plaintiffs advised the court that “the Bruen decision is relevant to the issues.” It also included a lawsuit over Pennsylvania’s restriction on 18- to 20-year-olds carrying guns, and a filing Thursday seeking to lift a stay on a lower court ruling tossing California’s ban on military-style “assault weapons.”
On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent four Second Amendment cases back to lower courts for reconsideration, referencing the Bruen decision. Those included bans in California and New Jersey on large-capacity gun magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, Maryland‘s ban on military-style “assault weapons,” and Hawaii‘s permit rules for guns outside the home.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also ordered a district court to reconsider a lawsuit over Ventura County’s COVID-19 closures of gun stores and shooting ranges. And a federal court in Southern California requested new legal briefs in a lawsuit over a state law limiting handgun and semiautomatic rifle purchases to once in 30 days.
Meanwhile, state officials are pushing the limits of what might be allowable under the new framework.
In California, Senate Bill 918 includes new provisions that applicants for concealed carry permits be at least 21 years old, have not threatened or committed acts of violence against themselves or others, undergo a broadened training course, provide three character references and pay higher fees. It also expands areas where weapons would be restricted, such as school zones and transit hubs.
Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said those efforts are worthwhile.
“Lawmakers can and should continue to prioritize gun safety reform – full stop,” Freilich said. “I am hopeful that courts will interpret this test in a manner that limits the damage and the very real threat of harm this poses to so many.”
But he cautioned the new rules may not hold up.
“I think it’s unfortunately undeniable,” Freilich said, “that the Bruen decision will open the floodgates for the gun industry to relitigate many cases across the board in ways that may put some of the most basic protections we have in renewed jeopardy.”