After the Supreme Court upheld the right to bear arms last month, some states promptly complied with the ruling by eliminating subjective requirements for carrying a gun in public. But other states are either dragging their feet or refusing to acknowledge the decision’s implications.
The Court said New York had violated the Second Amendment by requiring “proper cause” to carry handguns for self-defense, a standard that gave local officials wide discretion to reject carry-permit applications. But anti-gun politicians have other tricks up their sleeves, including similarly vague standards and bans on firearm possession in specific locations, that will invite further litigation to vindicate a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.
New York responded to the Court’s rebuke with a law that eliminates the “proper cause” requirement but specifies a long list of “sensitive locations” where gun possession is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison. Those restrictions will make it impractical or legally perilous for many permit holders to actually exercise the right recognized by the Court.
In addition to listing myriad places where permit holders may not carry firearms, New York’s law bans guns in all private establishments open to the public unless they post conspicuous signs announcing that they are deviating from the default rule—a step many business owners will be reluctant to take. A bill backed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta takes a similar approach.
New York’s law retains a requirement that permit applicants demonstrate “good moral character,” an assessment that includes perusing their social media posts. Bonta likewise maintains that California’s “good moral character” standard remains constitutional, and he suggests that controversial opinions could be disqualifying.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment specialist, thinks such a wide-ranging inquiry is “clearly unconstitutional.” Volokh notes that “the government can’t restrict ordinary citizens’ actions—much less their constitutionally protected actions—based on the viewpoints that they express.”