Daniel Sullivan is a first-year evening law student at American University Washington College of Law. Daniel graduated from Northeastern University with an MS in Urban and Regional Policy and a BS in Civil Engineering. Daniel currently works on autonomous vehicle policy at an international truck manufacturer.
Gun ownership is regulated by both federal and state laws. Federal laws focus on the types of firearms that can be owned and the background checks necessary for purchases. State laws can vary significantly, and may further restrict the types of firearms that can be owned, require additional background checks or permits, recognize “right to carry” laws from other states, and limit where firearms can be carried. While some states have permissive open carry laws, which allow individuals to carry a concealed firearm without a permit as long as they are legally allowed to own a firearm, others have “discretionary” concealed carry laws that give authorities the discretion to grant or deny a permit based on factors such as the applicant’s age, criminal history, and mental health. Recent Supreme Court rulings have significantly limited the ability of states to prohibit guns in certain places, causing states to scramble to find ways to maintain public safety while complying with these rulings.
Six states in the US restricted the issuance of a license to carry based on a citizen’s showing of an additional special need; New York, for example, issued public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrated a unique need for self-defense. The June 2022 Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, however, found that New York’s law requiring “proper cause” for an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm violated the 14th amendment of the Constitution by “preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.” A license to carry may be denied based on an applicant’s background, character, or ability to use a firearm properly, but not for lack of a unique need for self-defense.
To determine the constitutionality of firearm laws, the Supreme Court in Bruen held that courts must assess whether states’ laws are consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding; this involves considering the burden placed on the right of armed self-defense and whether that burden is justified. The Court rejected the use of strict or intermediate scrutiny and any interest-balancing inquiry in this context. Historical regulations pertaining to “sensitive places,” such as laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in certain places like schools and government buildings, can be used in this analysis.
In Bruen, the State of New York sought to characterize the “proper-cause” requirement as a “sensitive place,” however the Court found no historical regulatory basis to effectively declare the entirety of Manhattan as a sensitive place. The Court held that the Second Amendment does not distinguish between the right to keep and bear arms in the home versus in public. The definition of “bear” includes carrying a weapon in public, and the right to possess and carry weapons for self-defense in case of confrontation applies both inside and outside the home.
The majority opinion argued that there was no historical evidence limiting the right to bear arms in public for ordinary self-defense purposes. States may still ban guns in certain sensitive places, but the Supreme Court cautioned against defining such places too broadly. In dissent, Justice Breyer noted that the Court’s ambiguity would raise future challenges about what places could be considered sensitive. In the months following the ruling, the issue has already become problematic.
After the Bruen ruling, New York legislators passed a new law, the Conceal Carry Improvement Act, in July 2022, which placed restrictions on the public carry of weapons and included a list of sensitive locations from which they would be barred entirely. Judge Suddaby, a Northern District judge, struck down many of the sensitive locations within the new law as too broad in a decision which highlighted the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Judge Suddaby’s ruling was based on an analysis of historical laws which found few precedents for restricting guns in the new places identified in New York’s updated law. For example, Judge Suddaby found no historical statute banning guns at summer camps, and thus sought to invalidate summer camps as sensitive locations from the law.
In December 2022, a federal appeals court put Judge Suddaby’s decision on hold and ordered an expedited consideration of the issue. On January 3rd, while the plaintiffs sought an emergency judgment from the Supreme Court, New York Attorney General Letitia James asked the Supreme Court to allow the new state law to stay in effect while the appeal was heard. On January 11th, the Court granted this request in an unsigned order responding to the emergency application. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas noted in a statement that the law “presents novel and serious questions,” but wanted the appeals court to address the issues first.
New Jersey also passed a law in December 2022, A4769, which sought to ban firearms in specific public places such as libraries, museums, and bars. The New Jersey law has been temporarily blocked from taking effect by a U.S. District Judge who ruled that the State failed to demonstrate a history of firearm regulation which supported the sensitive area designations in A4769. It seems likely that the United States Supreme Court will soon be hearing another case to clarify the confusion created as a result of the Bruen ruling.
 Jonathan Masters, U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons, Council on Foreign Relations (June 10, 2022, 9:00 AM), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-gun-policy-global-comparisons.
 Id.; Browse State Gun Laws, https://giffords.org/lawcenter/gun-laws/browse-state-gun-laws/ (last visited Jan. 15, 2023).
 Concealed Carry, https://giffords.org/lawcenter/gun-laws/policy-areas/guns-in-public/concealed-carry/ (last visited Jan. 15, 2023).
 New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2156 (2022).
 Id. at 2154-55.
 Id. at 2133, 2145.
 Id. at 2118.
 Id. at 2133.
 Id. at 2134.
 Id. at 2134-35.
 Id. at 2181 (Breyer, J., dissenting).
 Ed Shanahan, New York’s New Gun Law Remains Intact for Now After Appeals Court Ruling, New York Times (Dec. 12, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/12/nyregion/gun-law-court-ruling.html.
 Antonyuk v. Hochul, No. 122CV0986GTSCFH, 2022 WL 16744700, at *58-71 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2022).
 Id. at 21-23.
 Antonyuk v. Hochul, No. 22-2908, 2022 WL 18228317, at *1 (2d Cir. Dec. 7, 2022).
 Ariane de Vogue, Supreme Court Asked to Step in on New York Concealed Carry Firearm Law, CNN (Jan. 3, 2023, 5:33 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/03/politics/new-york-gun-law-supreme-court-appeal.
 Antonyuk v. Nigrelli, No. 22A557, 2023 WL 150425, at *1 (U.S. Jan. 11, 2023).
 Tracey Tully, Judge Blocks Much of New Jersey Law Limiting Guns in Public, New York Times (Jan. 9, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/09/nyregion/nj-handgun-law.html.
 Koons v. Reynolds, No. CV 22-7464 (RMB/EAP), 2023 WL 128882 (D.N.J. Jan. 9, 2023).