What happens if the Supreme Court strikes down New York’s gun law?

New York State has one of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, which severely restricts people’s ability to carry weapons outside their homes.

But questions from Supreme Court justices this week suggested the law could soon be declared unconstitutional, changing the way the state regulates firearms at a time when many of its cities are experiencing a crisis of gun violence.

The decision in the case, which is now before the court, is not expected for several months, and when the judges decide, there is a chance that they will reject the expectations and uphold New York law. It is difficult to predict exactly how their decision will affect New York and a number of other states with similar laws.

But legal experts said it is likely New York will have to replace its current law with a less restrictive law that will allow more people to carry weapons in public.

“We will probably see New York being forced to rewrite its law,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in constitutional law and gun policy. “We will have to wait until we see the court’s opinion before we know what is constitutionally allowed.”

The case before the court involves two petitioners from the state of New York, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, who had both applied for unlimited permission to carry small arms. Both received limited licenses that allowed them to carry firearms for the specific purpose of hunting and target shooting, and Mr. Koch was allowed to carry a gun to and from work.

They were excluded from unlimited licensees because they did not meet New York’s standard of “real cause,” which requires a person to demonstrate an increased need to carry a gun for self-defense.

Their lawyers have argued that the restrictions were outright unconstitutional based on two relatively recent rulings by the Court, which have reformulated the way the Second Amendment is interpreted. The court now finds that the amendment protects a person’s right to have a gun for certain purposes, including self-defense.

Joseph Blocher, a Second Amendment expert at the Duke University School of Law, said a variety of outcomes were possible if the court were to overturn New York law.

In one scenario, New York could retain some degree of discretion over who receives a license to carry a concealed handgun, but would be forced to lower its standards, he said. In another case, New York and states with similar laws may simply have to grant licenses to carry small arms to all applicants who meet a certain set of as yet undefined criteria, as is the case in a number of other states.

New York politicians have expressed considerable concern over the matter. On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it “really worried” him.

“It’s a bit surreal that we have judges in the Supreme Court suggesting it would be great to have more and more armed people walking the streets of the city,” he said.

The ruling is expected to fall after Eric Adams replaces Mr de Blasio as mayor. Mr. Adams, who stressed public safety as the key to the city’s recovery during his campaign, said limiting the state’s ability to regulate firearms “is a recipe for disaster.”

“We need fewer people carrying weapons – not more – and the ability to keep our streets safe, not turned around,” he said in a statement. “If this law is eliminated in New York, police departments in New York City and across the state will immediately have to prepare for more shootings and need additional resources to prevent them.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul said in an interview with NY1 Thursday that she believed gun owners had rights, “but those rights do not include walking around with a concealed gun.”

“I really hope the Supreme Court sees the wisdom in what we have in place,” she said.

While most weapons used for shootings in New York City are not legally owned, research has shown that the vast majority of criminal weapons are often purchased legally in states with less restrictive laws and smuggled into the city. Iesha Sekou, an anti-violence activist in Harlem, said a weakening of gun laws would only make the problem worse.

“Releasing weapon restraints is like pulling the thread out of the shirt,” she said. “It will make the work of the arms reform and all the things we fought for to make weapons less accessible – it will undo that work.”

In New York City, police officials have expressed concern that illegal weapons are increasingly finding their way into the hands of teens or being used to attack them. Ms. Sekou remembered how she last week saw a 17-year-old boy die after being shot in the chest in Harlem, and comforted her mother after she arrived at the scene on West 132nd Street.

“We’re going to see more of young people’s bodies soften up on concrete because we have looser gun laws,” she said.

New York’s hidden weapons law, the Sullivan Act, was first passed in 1911 in response to a deadly increase in gun violence in public spaces. New York City had seen a marked increase in gun violence and suicide by the beginning of that decade, and Mayor William Jay Gaynor had been shot in the neck in 1910 in a New Jersey assassination attempt.

The law is being challenged at a time when cities across the state are once again struggling with an increase in gun violence, which came with the onset of the pandemic. In New York City, shootings rose to the highest level in a decade, and although they have begun to decline in recent months, they remain well above pre-pandemic levels. Cities like Buffalo and Rochester are struggling with similar increases in gun violence.

While lawyers said New York would likely adopt the strictest gun rules it could after the judges’ decisions, they said key questions remained unanswered.

“Where would it be constitutional for the government to say, ‘You can’t bring weapons here?'” Said Eric Ruben, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s law school and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “During the oral discussion, it became clear that line drawing exercises are going to be very challenging.”

Mr. Winkler said most of the judges had seemed to accept the idea that weapons could be restricted in sensitive locations. He said the state was almost certain to aggressively regulate what constituted a sensitive place.

“Whatever happens in this case, New York will continue to try to limit hidden transportation in ways that anger gun rights enthusiasts,” he said. And if that happens, one thing is for sure, he said: “There will be more lawsuits in the future.”

Grace Ashford and Jeffery C. Mays contributed with reporting.

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