Massachusetts gun laws are at risk following a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling Thursday, which struck down a New York law limiting carrying guns outside the home. The Court considered the law unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.
The stricken New York law requires people to show a “proper cause” to obtain a license to carry. Massachusetts’ current laws similarly restrict gun carrying under a statute that gives local police chiefs power to deny licenses if they deem applicants “unsuitable.”
“This decision puts that statute in jeopardy,” said Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University and a legal analyst at GBH News.
Massachusetts has the second-lowest rate of death by firearm in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. New York also sits low on the list with the fifth-lowest rate of gun deaths as of 2020.
While the ruling directly affects New York, Medwed said he expects to see this gun license applicants in Massachusetts begin to challenge state restrictions based on the Supreme Court ruling. Still, he thinks legislators will attempt to amend Massachusetts laws to keep them legal and create more objective criteria about applicants’ suitability to stay consistent with the ruling.
Lawrence Chief of Police Roy Vasque told GBH News he worries about not having discretion in who receives licenses.
“I have my situations where I deny licenses, where we revoke licenses and we deal with appeals of those as well, so it’s not uncommon. It happens, ”they said. “But I think Massachusetts requiring a license to carry a firearm and getting a license in order to carry that in public, I think is a good thing. I think basing those on factors like criminal history and even mental history and things like that I think is a no-brainer. So certainly it’s concerning that some changes may result in that as a result of this ruling. ”
“With all the gun violence in the world and some of the spikes that have happened, I’m kind of amazed, I guess, or stunned that this would have happened in this timeline,” Vasque added.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes as the Senate is advancing a bipartisan gun bill, and in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, Texas and elsewhere across the country.
Interim Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden came out against the decision Thursday. “I stand with my colleagues in New York and across the country in expressing grave concern about the impact of today’s Supreme Court gun decision,” he said. “It’s ironic, and perhaps tragic, that just as the nation’s top legislative body is formulating sensible firearm regulations, its top judicial body is undoing them.”
Attorney General Maura Healey, US Rep. Katherine Clark and Sen. Ed Markey also criticized the decision.
“We know concealed weapons near schools or on street corners across Massachusetts – or anywhere in our country – won’t make parents or their children feel any safer,” Markey said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has now placed the safety of these families at risk.”
The ruling worries gun control advocates, many of whom see the Supreme Court as an increasingly politicized branch.
“We have an activist court there making up the rules as they go,” said John Rosenthal, co-founder of the Boston-based group Stop Handgun Violence. “They don’t represent the majority of Americans that support common sense gun laws and they’re dismantling them. In Massachusetts it’s going to have an impact. It’s going to make it easier for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them. ”
For the Second Amendment proponents, the ruling comes as a win. “We are really excited today for an important day for civil rights in this country,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners ’Action League, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group on behalf of gun owners. “It’s going to be one more decision we have that’s kind of going to force Massachusetts to recognize the Second Amendment as an individual civil right, which it really has not historically.”
In June, The New York Times identified 35 U.S. mass shootings since 1999 in which the stricter gun control legislation in front of the Senate might have made a difference, other countries have seen decreases in gun-related deaths after passing gun restrictions. While the bill poised to pass the Senate does not go as far as many Democrats want, it breaks years of inaction on gun control due to Republican opposition. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruling is the first case concerning gun laws taken up by the Supreme Court since 2008.
Wallace wants to see gun violence tackled as a criminal justice and mental health problem targeting individual offenders, instead of through gun control legislation. Rosenthal, who is also a gun owner, thinks the ruling will lead to more deaths.
“In all likelihood, Massachusetts and all the states that have tougher gun laws and lower gun death rates will see a change, and will see more gun injuries and deaths as a result of this outrageous decision by the Supreme Court,” Rosenthal said.