The US Supreme Court on Thursday rejected as unconstitutional New York state's limits on carrying concealed handguns in public.
It is expected that the justices' 6-3 decision could ultimately allow more people to legally carry guns on the streets of New York and other large cities such as Los Angeles and Boston.
The ruling — the high court's first major gun decision in more than a decade — follows a series of recent mass shootings.
Why is the decision important?
New York's law — in place since 1913 — says that, to carry a concealed handgun, a person must have "proper cause."
An individual would have to convince a state firearms licensing officer of a real, rather than speculative, need for self-defense. Licenses could also be granted for activities such as hunting or target practice.
The challenge was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. Two men were seeking an unrestricted ability to carry guns outside their homes.
Backers of the New York law say it ultimately prevents people from carrying guns on the streets, leading to less violent crime.
However, justices said the requirement violates the Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms."
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects "an individual's right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.''
Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, in the dissenting opinion, highlighted the gun violence epidemic in the US and said his colleagues in the majority are ruling "without considering the potentially deadly consequences" of their decision.
The last decision the Supreme Court made on a major gun issue was in 2010 when it established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.
What happens now?
About a quarter of the US population lives in states now likely to be affected by the precedent-setting decision.
Challenges to similar laws are now likely in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. California Governor criticized the ruling as "reckless" and vowed that his state will push on with new gun legislation.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams warned that the decision "may have opened an additional river feeding the sea of gun violence."
"We will work together to mitigate the risks this decision will create once it is implemented, as we cannot allow New York to become the Wild West," he said in a statement.
The US Congress is currently working on gun legislation in the wake of mass shootings in Texas, New York and California. Senators on Thursday evening passed a modest bill on gun safety measures by a 65-33 vote. Expected to also pass in the House of Representatives, the measure is the first significant gun control bill in the US in decades and will require background checks on more people purchasing a firearm. The United States has the highest rates of gun ownership and mass shootings among wealthy nations.
The administration of US President Joe Biden had urged the justices to uphold the New York law. Responding to the decision, Biden said he was "deeply disappointed." He urged states to keep on enacting and enforcing "commonsense" laws to keep citizens safe from gun violence.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the decision came at a particularly painful time, after 10 people were killed in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo. "This decision isn't just reckless. It's reprehensible. It's not what New Yorkers want,'' she said.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, said the decision "has put millions of Americans in New York and across the country at even greater risk of gun violence."
Elise Stefanik, a US House Republican who represents a district in New York state, called the ruling "a win for the Constitution and a win for law-abiding gun owners."
rc, wd/rt (AFP, Reuters)