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Supreme Court Strikes Down N.Y. Gun Law. Is California's Concealed Carry Law Next?

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hand holds small gun above glass case containing two other small handguns
A gun shop clerk displays a small handgun in San Francisco. Restrictive concealed carry policies in California - like those in place in San Francisco - are in jeopardy following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday issued one of its most significant gun law rulings in more than a decade, tossing out New York state’s tight restrictions on who can carry a concealed gun in public.

Gun rights activists are celebrating the 6-3 decision, while advocates for stricter gun laws decry it. Both agree that California’s similar law may be challenged next.

The ruling likely marks the most dramatic expansion of gun rights in the United States since 2008, when the Supreme Court clarified for the first time that the Second Amendment’s right “to keep and bear” firearms applies to individual citizens, not just state militia members. But that ruling only affirmed the right for “self-defense within the home,” leaving states with wide discretion over whether and how to restrict guns elsewhere.

Thursday's ruling brings that constitutional right outside the home.

“Confining the right to 'bear' arms to the home would make little sense,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s majority.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the ruling “shameful” and a “dark day for America.”

“This is a dangerous decision from a court hell bent on pushing a radical ideological agenda and infringing on the rights of states to protect our citizens from being gunned down in our streets, schools, and churches,” the governor said on Twitter.

Sen. Alex Padilla joined Newsom in condemning the court's ruling.

"Today’s decision will make our communities less safe, plain and simple," Padilla said in a statement. "This dangerous decision misinterprets the Constitution and jeopardizes gun safety laws in a number of states, including California, which has some of the most effective gun safety measures in the nation."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the high court is condoning mass shootings and the "ongoing tragedy of daily gun deaths plaguing our nation."

"It is unfathomable that, while families in Uvalde, Buffalo and countless other communities mourn their loved ones stolen by gun violence, a supermajority of the Supreme Court has chosen to endanger more American lives," Pelosi said.

Most states either issue concealed carry licenses upon request or do not require licenses at all. But in eight states, applicants are required to show a compelling need before being granted permission to tote around a concealed firearm. Until Thursday's ruling, New York was one of those states. California is another.

“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote, offering a description of New York’s concealed carry law, but also California’s.


How easily a Californian is able to obtain a concealed weapon permit depends on where they live. That’s because in California these licenses are issued by local law enforcement — either city police chiefs or county sheriffs. And while state law requires applicants to demonstrate “good cause,” local law enforcement officials have wide latitude to define what that means.

In counties with Republican sheriffs — Sacramento and Tehama, for example — permits are issued to all qualified applicants so long as they pay the necessary fees, take a firearms safety class as required by state law and don’t have a criminal record.

San Francisco sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. According to county sheriff guidelines, an applicant living in the city must “supply convincing evidence” that they are at “significant risk of danger” that local law enforcement “cannot adequately address” and “cannot reasonably be avoided by alternative measures.”

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The court’s ruling doesn’t immediately invalidate restrictive concealed carry policies like those in San Francisco. But it does make legal challenges against California’s entire discretionary system much more likely to succeed. In 2017, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to California's concealed carry law.

Thursday's ruling could have much more sweeping implications that touch on all areas of California gun laws – from the state’s ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines to its restrictions on “ghost guns.” That’s because the new ruling sets a higher bar for any firearm restrictions.

“To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest,” Thomas wrote. “Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association (the state’s National Rifle Association chapter), told CalMatters on Thursday that he plans to file a host of new legal briefs in existing court challenges against the state’s assault weapon ban, its background check requirements, its large capacity magazine ban and against Los Angeles County’s concealed carry restrictions.

He said today’s ruling is “going to simplify the whole process of judging whether or not a gun law is constitutional” and that the State of California will now have a harder time arguing that its strict rules are legal.

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At the same time the nation’s highest court expands the scope of the Second Amendment, Congress is on the verge of adding a few modest extra guardrails. In response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers with a semi-automatic rifle, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan gun bill on Wednesday over the objections of the National Rifle Association.

If passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Joe Biden, as is expected, the measure would ratchet up some background checks for younger would-be gun buyers. It would also provide funding to states interested in introducing “red-flag laws,” which make it easier for authorities to temporarily remove firearms from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

Democratic lawmakers in California are also considering their own raft of new gun bills. That includes legislation that would open gun vendors and manufacturers to an array of lawsuits for violating state gun rules or marketing guns and ammunition to minors or others who aren’t allowed to own them.

This story has been updated.

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