Protect Gun Owners, Not Cities
Terry H. Schwadron
June 23, 2022
Was it a strike of psychic irony that the Supreme Court decision to vastly expand concealed handguns on our streets came as the Senate finally voted its first substantial law about gun violence in 30 years?
Was it an expression of noblese oblige that the conservative justices for whom Congress just voted to have armed guards at home think it is perfectly fine to unleash more concealed guns in my neighborhood?
Was it a supreme height of arrogance for the conservative court majority to vote 6–3 to overturn a totally reasonable process in New York State on historical principle and ignore, as outlined in Justice Stephen Breyer’s bristling dissent, the reality of a mass shooting every day this year in America?
The whole point of the Senate bill, a measure dealing as much with mental health as access to weapons, was to skirt Second Amendment concerns but find a way to address gun violence.
The court’s decision to undercut the simple test in New York — asking a legal gunowner for a reason to carry a concealed weapon outside the home — may help cement fulfillment of the Right-wing allegiance to a totally opaque Second Amendment right to personal guns.
But it is not going to help quell reports of violence in my neighborhood in Harlem or those in cities across the country.
Given their length, the reasoning of the court’s gun decision and its concurring opinions was pretty simple: Nothing should get in the way of legal gun ownership. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote.
While the historical record shows that “states remain free to ban guns in sensitive places, giving a few examples: schools, government buildings, legislative assemblies, polling places and courthouses,” that doesn’t mean New York City or Manhattan or apparently even my neighborhood in Harlem which has been tagged by the mayor and NYPD as needing more anti-gun cops. Thomas wrote that courts “can use analogies to those historical regulations” of sensitive places.
A concurring decision from Justice Sam Alito underscored that the Second Amendment right is to “people,” not just those organized as a “militia.”
Justice Breyer’s opinion was just as straightforward. Ignoring the contemporary context of violence is sticking one’s head in the sand. Breyer asked: “So where does that leave the many locations in a modern city with no obvious 18th- or 19th-century analogue? What about subways, nightclubs, movie theaters, and sports stadiums? The court does not say.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have laws similar to New York’s.
Of course, the guns in my area generally are not legal and their holders certainly are not turning to the local authorities for permission to carry them concealed on their bodies. We have epidemic type numbers of gun deaths in this country and more guns than people, and as a governing public, we can’t even figure out how to talk about them.
In the streets, any cop will tell you that the potential for more citizens carrying their own guns for self-protection simply will complicate response to already confusing law enforcement situations.
What We’ve Wrought
At the end of the day, we found again that we have a Supreme Court that relies on political principles rather than on real life solutions.
In the Congress, Republican opponents of the too-little-too-late effort to address out-of-control gun violence were gathering steam towards amendments and whipping votes to kill the bill in the House.
The New York governor and the New York City mayor were hustling to get the state legislature back into special session to hammer out legislation that would fit within the prescriptions of the new decision. Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “This decision isn’t just reckless. It’s reprehensible. It’s not what New Yorkers want.”
The court’s decision is out of step with public opinion. About half of voters in the AP VoteCast 2020 presidential election and any number of polls since said gun laws in the U.S. should be made stricter. An additional third said laws should be kept as they are, while only about 1 in 10 said gun laws should be less strict. About 8 in 10 Democratic voters said gun laws should be made stricter, VoteCast showed. Among Republican voters, roughly half said laws should be kept as they are, while the remaining half closely divided between more and less strict.
Apparently, you needn’t bother with a covid mask on the subway — it apparently is an unwanted intrusion on keeping our communal health. But do watch where you step: The people in your crowded car may be carrying concealed weapons.
We’re protecting guns and owners, not neighborhoods and schools.