WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital, so often a backdrop for inaction, had rarely witnessed anything quite like it — two branches of government splitting in opposite directions over guns, one of the most controversial stories in the country, in the space of two hours on a single day.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m. Thursday, the Senate introduced a bipartisan gun control bill that, while progressive, remains the most important gun safety measure in decades. At 10:30 a.m., the Supreme Court delivered a decisive and heavily partisan blow to gun regulations, swinging national gun policy to the right, possibly for years to come.
The result was a monumental victory in the courts for the gun rights movement and a less significant but important legislative achievement for those demanding an answer to the recent massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. For the country, there was deepening confusion over direction. of national gun policy at a time of mass shootings, rising crime, and a growing conservative push to expand gun rights and the reach of the Second Amendment.
“What a day,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel at Giffords Law Center, the legal arm of the national gun safety group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat and shooting survivor. in 2011 near Tucson.
“The Senate was finally reaching a bipartisan consensus on these reforms, primarily because a group of Republican senators heard from their constituents that something needed to be done,” he added. “Then the Supreme Court completely hijacks everything with an interpretation of gun rights that is completely out of step with what Democrats, Independents, and even a lot of Republicans wanted.
“Where does this all go from here?”
The court’s decision to strike down New York’s century-old law restricting the carrying of guns in public is the most sweeping gun ruling in years, and only the court’s second major pronouncement on the right to own and to bear arms.
In the majority view, Justice Clarence Thomas compared restrictions on Second Amendment rights to limits on the right to free speech under the First Amendment and every American’s Sixth Amendment right to “confront witnesses against him”. Critics were quick to point out that the exercise of these rights rarely involved the use of lethal force.
In the short term, the decision forces five states, including New York, California and New Jersey, to significantly relax their gun regulations.
In his 130-page opinion, Judge Thomas wrote that states could continue to ban firearms in “sensitive” public places – like schools, courts and government buildings – but warned that local authorities should not should not define the category of such places too broadly.
“Simply put,” he added, “there is no historical basis for New York actually declaring Manhattan Island a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is overcrowded and generally protected by the New York City Police Department.”
Although the majority decision does not explicitly address federal gun regulations, Justice Department lawyers are weighing the implications of the decision on their proceedings. Some restrictions, they believe, such as the one on carrying guns in courts, will remain in place – but they are less sure about restrictions at post offices, museums and other facilities where guns are currently banned.
Although the court is expected to weaken state gun laws, the timing was a slight surprise: Most Capitol and White House aides believed the highly anticipated decision. in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen would come next week, as the court neared the coda of a term set to be capped by an end to Roe v. Wade.
The focus this week was on the Senate, which managed to strike a hard-won compromise on a set of gun regulations that would expand background checks on potential gun buyers under 21. , would include serious dating partners in a law that prevents domestic abusers from buying guns and provides federal funds for state “red flag” laws to allow temporary removal of guns from people considered dangerous.
A final vote on the package, which was expected to attract some Republican support, was expected perhaps as early as Thursday evening. That would make June 23, 2022, one of the most important days in America’s troubled centuries-old history with guns.
The Supreme Court’s decision – denounced by Justice Department No. 2 official Lisa Monaco as “deeply disappointing” while a defiant Mayor Eric Adams of New York vowed to prevent the city from becoming the ” wild, wild West” – was seen as helping Democrats make the case for passage of the Senate bill.
“The landscape of gun violence prevention laws is different today than it was just 48 hours ago,” said Kris Brown, president of Brady, one of the oldest law enforcement groups. country firearms. “This decision only underscored the urgent need for the Senate to act and pass this bill.”
Gun advocacy organizations in turn hailed the ruling as a necessary constitutional check against growing restrictions in New York, California, New Jersey and other states. “The court has made it clear that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not limited to the home,” said Larry Keane, a senior official with the leading firearms industry trade group, National Shooting Sports. Foundation.
The decision gave potential political cover to Senate Republicans who backed the gun control bill, earning its top Republican sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a gunfight of boos from activists. gun rights at a state party rally last week.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, followed a statement applauding the legislation’s bipartisanship with a searing defense of gun rights in the wake of the decision.
“Great day for the Second Amendment,” he wrote. “The Supreme Court’s decision is another example of reinforcing the concept that the Second Amendment is an individual right rooted in the ability to defend oneself and one’s property.”