The Supreme Court’s first major Second Amendment ruling in a decade is already significantly reshaping gun laws in the United States. We’re tracking its effect throughout the country, from states and cities changing their gun laws to fresh legal challenges brought by advocacy groups. We’ll continue to update this post with new developments.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen: A recap
On June 23, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment confers a constitutional right to carry a gun outside the home. Bruen voided New York’s requirement that concealed carry permit applicants demonstrate “proper cause,” or a special need for self-defense. The decision also struck down “may-issue” permitting, which gave authorities the discretion to deny permits based on subjective criteria that go beyond basic requirements like a background check.
Most significantly, Bruen rewrote the methodology lower courts defer to when evaluating the constitutionality of a gun law, prescribing that it must have a well-established analogue in American history. Specifically, the 77-year span from 1791, when the Second Amendment was ratified, to 1868, when the 14th Amendment was ratified. Within this framework, judges can no longer consider the real-world effects of gun regulations, like violence reduction.
Changes to state policies and their enforcement
More than half a dozen states have reassessed their concealed carry permitting laws in the wake of Bruen. Police and prosecutors have reevaluated their policies, as well.
On June 24, Attorney General Rob Bonta directed permitting agencies to stop requiring a demonstration of “good cause” in order to obtain a concealed carry permit, as it was now “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” He said they could still use other gauges of suitability, like “good moral character,” and suggested criteria for determining whether an applicant qualifies, including social media searches, character references, a history of racist behavior, financial stability, and honesty and trustworthiness. Bonta also said that permitting authorities can still ask why an applicant wants to carry a gun, even if the answer is no longer allowed to factor into their decision.
The Real Significance of the Supreme Court’s Gun Decision
On July 22, a Los Angeles Police Department commander directed sworn personnel to stop enforcing the state’s high-capacity magazine ban, which the Supreme Court vacated in light of Bruen (more on that below). Until the case is decided, officers are not to “investigate, detain, or arrest” anyone suspected of possessing ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds unless they are a prohibited purchaser, the LAPD confirmed to The Trace.
Delaware, a may-issue state, doesn’t appear to have issued guidance on how Bruen will affect the state’s concealed carry permitting laws. But a week after the ruling, Governor John Carney signed legislation that bans assault weapons; raises the age for buying semiautomatic rifles to 21; caps magazine capacity at 17 rounds; creates an avenue to sue gun makers and sellers; bans machine gun conversion devices; and revives the state’s gun background check system.
On July 5, Governor Larry Hogan directed the Maryland State Police to stop using a “good and substantial reason” standard when evaluating concealed carry permit applicants. In response, leaders in the Democrat-led state Legislature have vowed to pass new concealed carry restrictions.
On July 12, the local council in Montgomery County, disappointed by Bruen, introduced a bill that would ban guns “in or near places of public assembly.” A couple of weeks later, the Montgomery County State’s Attorney said he would be dropping illegal gun carry charges against people who were denied a concealed carry permit because they didn’t meet the “good and substantial reason” standard.
On July 1, Attorney General Maura Healey said “licensing authorities can no longer enforce the “good reason” provision of the state’s concealed carry law. Healey issued guidance that the “suitability” requirement was unaffected by Bruen.
Shortly after the ruling, police departments around the state began to lift restrictions on concealed carry permits that were limited to hunting or target shooting only. The change could affect nearly 20,000 gun owners. By mid-July, Boston had “unrestricted” nearly 250 such licenses, while Springfield had unrestricted 53.
On August 1, the state legislature passed a measure that would amend concealed carry laws to comply with Bruen. It includes language that removes “a reasonable exercise of discretion” on the part of licensing authorities, eliminates a requirement that applicants have “good reason to fear injury,” and replaces the word “may” with “shall” in the state statute, reflecting the transition from may-issue to shall-issue. The bill also requires in-person interviews with licensing authorities and adds new categories of prohibited carriers, including people subject to temporary and permanent harassment prevention orders and people who have exhibited behavior that suggests they would be a danger to themselves or others. Republican Governor Charlie Baker is expected to sign the legislation.
On June 24, Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin told prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that the state’s “justifiable need” requirement was no longer enforceable. Platkin emphasized that “the ruling does not change any other aspect of New Jersey’s public carry laws,” which include comprehensive background checks, character references from three people you’ve known for at least three years, and firearms training.
On July 1, Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, which imposes a number of regulations on the public carry of firearms, including: a ban on guns in “sensitive locations” like public transit, government buildings, places of worship, polling places, medical facilities, bars, and Times Square; a provision that automatically designates all private property to be a gun-free zone unless the property owner deems otherwise; 18 hours of required firearm training; and a requirement that applicants furnish a list of social media accounts as part of a background check investigation.
The striking of New York’s proper cause requirement didn’t remove limitations on permits limited to carrying a gun while hunting or during target practice. Right now it’s unclear if and how that will happen — authorities who issue pistol permits say they’re still awaiting guidance from the governor.
On July 19, Attorney General Peter Neronha announced that the state’s unique dual permitting system — which provides two avenues for obtaining a carry permit, one may-issue and one shall-issue — is not affected by Bruen. Residents can still go to their local licensing authority and apply for a permit without “a proper showing of need,” or they can apply to the Attorney General’s Office, which does require a proper showing of need and uses discretion when issuing permits.
New litigation and arguments in the courts
As my colleague Chip Brownlee has reported, courts are asking parties in ongoing Second Amendment lawsuits to adjust their arguments in the wake of Bruen. Gun-rights groups and activists have also brought new challenges to existing gun regulations. And some defense attorneys are using the ruling to try to get gun charges dismissed.
The importance of fresh litigation was made apparent just hours after the Bruen decision, when attorneys Paul Clement and Erin Murphy, who argued and won the case, formed their own firm to take on Second Amendment challenges. Among their first clients: the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group, which is challenging the constitutionality of a recently enacted New York law that classifies the unlawful marketing or sale of guns as a public nuisance and allows gun companies to be sued.
Boland v. Bonta: On August 1, the California Rifle and Pistol Association filed suit to overturn the state’s 1999 Unsafe Handgun Act, which established safety standards for handguns. If a pistol is deemed unsafe, it can’t be sold by licensed dealers. The plaintiffs argue that the regulation wouldn’t pass the history-and-tradition test set forth in Bruen. At least two previous attempts to void the law have failed.
Duncan v. Bonta: On June 30, the Supreme Court sent a challenge to the state’s high-capacity magazine ban back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the ban in November 2021. The case was brought by the California Rifle & Pistol Association and a group of private citizens, who argue that the law is unconstitutional because it provides no exceptions for magazines owned before the law took effect, and thus violates a Fifth Amendment clause that protects against the confiscation of legally acquired property. They also argue that because the devices are “widely owned,” the ban conflicts with SCOTUS’s ruling in 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller that weapons “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes” are protected by the Second Amendment.
In their initial complaint, the plaintiffs asked the courts to determine whether the two-step framework that lower courts used to decide gun cases — which took into account not just precedent, but also the public-safety ramifications of the law — is consistent with the Second Amendment. Since Bruen rewrote that framework, scuttling the consideration of modern-day factors, this question no longer applies.
On August 2, the Ninth Circuit asked lawyers for both sides to submit supplemental briefs on how they believe Bruen affects the case.
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Martinez v. Villanueva: On July 6, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has sided with gun-rights groups in recent years, vacated a decision regarding pandemic-related gun store and shooting range closures in Los Angeles County and returned the case to a district court. A Ninth Circuit panel ruled in January that the closures “burden the core of the Second Amendment right at a time of crisis, precisely when the need to exercise that right becomes most acute.” The defendants, which include a slew of state officials, had requested that the case be remanded to the district court on the grounds that a similar case in nearby Ventura County was remanded in light of Bruen. The plaintiffs include the National Rifle Association, the Firearms Policy Coalition, the Second Amendment Foundation, and the California Gun Rights Foundation.
Miller v. Bonta: On August 1, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a June 2021 ruling that struck down the state’s 30-year-old assault weapons ban, and sent the case back to a district court for reconsideration in light of Bruen. In the 2021 ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who’s frequently sided with gun rights advocates, said AR-15s are like Swiss Army knives, “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.” The case will return to his courtroom.
Rhode v. Bonta: On June 24, the Ninth Circuit asked the parties involved in an ongoing challenge to the state’s 2016 ammunition background check law to prepare supplemental briefs in light of Bruen. The case was brought in 2018 by the California Rifle & Pistol Association and a group of ammunition retailers and private citizens, who argue that provisions that implement a vendor-licensing system and prohibit direct mail-order ammunition sales essentially “ban millions of constitutionally protected ammunition transfers and heavily burden countless millions more.” The law took effect in July 2019.
Rupp v. Bonta: On June 28, the Ninth Circuit sent a 2017 challenge to the state’s assault weapons ban back to a district court “for further proceedings consistent with” the Bruen decision. The plaintiffs, which include the California Rifle & Pistol Association and several private citizens, are arguing that semiautomatic rifles are “in common use by millions of Americans for self-defense” and thus protected by Heller. They also say the criteria that California uses to determine whether a gun is an “assault weapon” — features including pistol grips, adjustable stocks, and flash suppressors — “have [nothing] to do with rate of fire, ammunition capacity, power, or anything else linked to the rifle’s potential to be exploited for crime.”
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Town of Superior: On July 7, two gun groups, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights, joined a local resident in bringing a challenge to Superior’s semiautomatic rifle ban, enacted a year after a mass shooting at a supermarket in nearby Boulder left 10 people dead. The plaintiffs argue that the ordinance contradicts the history-and-tradition framework that Bruen directed lower courts to apply to Second Amendment cases. On July 22, U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore, an appointee of Barack Obama, agreed, concluding that the “plaintiffs have a strong likelihood of success on the merits” and issuing a temporary restraining order halting enforcement of the ordinance. More lawsuits could follow: The city councils in Boulder and Louisville approved assault weapon bans in June, and Boulder County is considering one.
Gates v. Polis: On July 28, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and a group of private citizens filed suit in U.S. District Court to reverse the state’s 2013 ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. The plaintiffs argue that the 2020 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that upheld the ban should be vacated and redecided according to the history-and-tradition test set forth in Bruen.
Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association v. Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security: On July 20, an NRA-backed consortium of local gun rights groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the state’s three-week-old law prohibiting sales of certain semiautomatic rifles. The plaintiffs, which include local gun groups and private citizens, argue that since Delaware’s assault weapons ban was inspired by Maryland’s, and the Supreme Court vacated a challenge to Maryland’s ban and sent it back to a lower court for reconsideration because of Bruen, Delaware’s ban should be voided.
United States v. Matthew Raymond Hoover: On July 1, Hoover, a gun dealer and YouTuber who was charged in January with conspiring to illegally distribute machine gun conversion devices, asked a U.S. District Court in Florida to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the 1934 federal law regulating machine guns doesn’t pass Bruen’s history-and-tradition test. Hoover’s lawyers go even further, asking the judge to rule the National Firearms Act unconstitutional. They cite 88-year-old Senate testimony in which then-Attorney General Homer Stille Commings admitted that lawmakers enacted a tax on machine guns instead of an outright ban in order to dodge questions of constitutionality.
Young v. Hawaii: On June 30, the Supreme Court returned a challenge to the state’s open carry licensing scheme to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The lower court had upheld the ban in March 2021. The plaintiff, George Young, is seeking to eliminate the requirement that gun owners demonstrate “the urgency or the need” to obtain a permit to openly carry a gun for the purposes of “the protection of life and property.” Young applied for an open carry license in 2011 but authorities determined he didn’t meet the “urgency and need” standard. The law’s defenders argue that openly carrying firearms can incite violent behavior and intimidate members of the public, and make it harder for police to identify public safety threats.
Second Amendment Arms v. City of Chicago: On June 28, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow Jr. asked lawyers involved in a challenge to Chicago’s 2010 ban on gun laser sights to offer arguments on how Bruen impacts the case. “The court is particularly interested in whether the parties believe that the Supreme Court’s framework impacts the analysis and/or result,” he wrote. The laser sight ban is the last remaining issue in a case that was brought by a gun dealer in 2010.
Bianchi v. Frosh: On June 30, the Supreme Court sent a challenge to the state’s assault weapons ban back down to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in light of Bruen’s new methodology. The Fourth Circuit upheld the ban in 2017, ruling that semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines were “dangerous and unusual weapons” and not protected by the Second Amendment under the standards set forth by Heller. The plaintiffs argue that semiautomatic rifles like AR-15s are “in common use” and thus protected by the Second Amendment. “There is no text, history, tradition of banning these certain types of rifles,” said Mark W. Pennak, the president of the gun group Maryland Shall Issue, one of the plaintiffs in the unsuccessful 2017 challenge to the ban.
Prince George’s County, Maryland
A public defender successfully used Bruen to get illegal gun possession charges dismissed on the grounds that the state law criminalizing carrying a handgun without a permit is now unconstitutional. Another attempt, by a public defender in Baltimore who argued that “there is no sufficient historical tradition of banning firearm possession by drug felons” failed.
New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs v. Bruck: On June 30, the Supreme Court sent a challenge to the state’s ban on high-capacity magazines back to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the law in 2020. The plaintiff, a member of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, is arguing that the 2018 ban is unconstitutional because it provides no exceptions for magazines owned before the law took effect, and thus violates a Fifth Amendment clause that protects against the confiscation of legally acquired property. They also argue that the devices are “widely owned,” and conflict with Heller’s ruling that weapons “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes” are protected by the Second Amendment.
The law’s defenders say that limiting the number of rounds in a magazine can save lives, as gunmen must stop to reload, providing opportunities for bystanders to intervene. Several mass shooters and would-be mass shooters have been stopped this way.
At least three lawsuits have been brought against various aspects of New York’s concealed carry law, all filed on July 11.
Antonyuk v. Bruen, brought by Gun Owners of America, seeks to strike the requirement that concealed carry applicants furnish a list of their social media accounts as part of their background check. The suit also takes issue with the “good moral character” requirement, calling it a “standardless notion” that contradicts Bruen’s ruling that authorities shouldn’t be granted the discretion “to deny licenses based on a perceived lack of need or suitability.” The plaintiffs also want to eliminate a longstanding requirement that applicants supply at least four character references.
Corbett v. Hochul is also challenging the social media requirement, as well as new training requirements that mandate 18 hours of firearms instruction.
Paladino v. Bruen seeks to strike the part of the law that designates private property a gun-free zone by default.
Two other cases seek to reevaluate old laws under the new Bruen methodology:
Lewis v. James, filed on July 8, seeks to overturn the state’s 2013 assault weapons ban based on the history-and-tradition test.
New York City
Public defenders have been asking judges to dismiss gun possession charges on the assertion that Bruen renders the state’s 121-year-old gun permit statute unconstitutional. The tactic has been used in at least seven cases, four of which were unsuccessful. In rejecting the argument, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge wrote that “failing to seek a license before roaming the streets with a loaded firearm is not abiding by the law, and nothing in the Second Amendment requires that it be tolerated. The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” For its part, the Legal Aid Society says that lawmakers should “focus on real solutions to gun violence, which lie outside of the criminal legal system.”
Angelo v. District of Columbia: On June 30, four licensed concealed carriers in Washington, D.C., filed suit in U.S. District Court to overturn the gun ban on the district’s transit system. The plaintiffs argue that the ban won’t pass Bruen’s history-and-tradition test.