How a Supreme Court Decision and Senate Bill Could Affect Gun Violence

Two major events in Washington yesterday toppled the American gun debate. The first was a Supreme Court decision striking down a New York State law that restricted people’s ability to carry weapons in public. The second was the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that would become the most significant change in federal gun safety laws in nearly three decades.

“Both things are very rare,” said Alex McCourt, a public health attorney at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, who studies the relationship between gun policy and gun violence. “The Supreme Court doesn’t make Second Amendment cases very often, and Congress doesn’t pass important gun laws very often.”

McCourt warned that it would take time to fully see the effects of yesterday’s events. But because the Senate bill is narrow – the result of a bipartisan compromise – he and other experts predicted that the court’s move to expand gun rights would likely have a more significant effect on gun violence.

Today’s newsletter explains how yesterday’s events can change the status quo.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a century-old New York law that required people who wanted to carry a concealed weapon in public to demonstrate the need to do so. The law, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote to the majority, prevented “law-abiding citizens with common needs for self-defense from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.”

The decision, in effect, says that the Constitution guarantees the right to carry a firearm outside the home. The decision will likely reverberate beyond New York.

California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey have similar laws that they will be forced to rewrite. “We can expect the laws of other states to be challenged and eventually the Supreme Court to refine what is permissible,” said our colleague Jonah Bromwich, who covers criminal justice.

The problem of gun violence in the United States is already worse than that of similar nations. Democrats and experts fear the decision will increase the number of guns on the streets and make shootings more common.

The Senate passed the gun safety law, with 15 Republicans joining the Democrats. President Nancy Pelosi promised a quick vote in the House.

The fact that Congress is on the verge of passing a gun bill is remarkable, and its efforts come just weeks after two horrific mass shootings – at a supermarket in Buffalo and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas – helped the legislators to pursue legislation. .

“Many times over the past two decades, we’ve seen Congress fail to act after a devastating shooting, even as lawmakers and advocates repeatedly swore it would be different,” Emily Cochrane, Times reporter in Congress, told us. “Finally it was different.”

But the legislation does not include the tougher gun control measures advocates sought, reflecting the reality of an evenly divided Senate. One provision would make it more difficult for anyone under 21 to buy a gun by requiring authorities to verify purchasers’ juvenile and mental health records. But that provision would expire after 10 years, a caveat that Republicans insisted on.

Another provision would close the so-called boyfriend gap, adding intimate partners to the list of domestic abusers who are barred from purchasing a gun. But the ban would expire after a few years for first-time offenders who kept a clean record, and Republicans demanded it not be retroactive.

A third measure allocates $750 million to help states implement red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily confiscate weapons from people who threaten themselves or others, as well as other crisis intervention programs. But the bill doesn’t quite create a red flag federal law.

Republicans blamed the mass shootings on mental health issues. The project includes hundreds of millions of dollars to train medical workers and school staff to respond to mental health crises and funding for school safety programs and school resource officials.

Passing the Senate bill may have only a limited impact on gun violence in the short term. Studies suggest that closing the boyfriend gap would reduce gun violence, McCourt said, but the effect of more funding for mental health is less certain. Gun purchases often increase after mass shootings as Americans fear further restrictions, and the latest congressional action could boost sales just as well. There is also no guarantee that states will actually adopt the red flag laws that the bill encourages.

Some experts fear that yesterday’s court ruling lays the groundwork for defying even red flag laws. In his majority opinion, Thomas wrote that gun laws must be rooted in historical tradition to be constitutional.

But the decision is already prompting leftist states to consider additional gun control laws they comply with. Kathy Hochul, Democratic governor of New York, promised yesterday to pass new restrictions. “Gun laws are really being remade in real time in this country in a really remarkable way,” Jonah said.

And the court’s own conservative majority looks a bit divided. Thomas’ decision endorsed an aggressive reading of gun rights. But two of his fellow Republican appointees — Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts — wrote in a concurring opinion that the Second Amendment, “properly interpreted,” allows for a variety of gun regulations, appearing to endorse the constitutionality of many guns. state. laws. That makes it difficult to know how far this deeply conservative court is willing to go.

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