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Supreme Court Ruling On State Gun Laws Is A Move Against Vague Laws

The reaction from both sides of the gun debate was swift, boisterous and, frankly, predictable in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen.

The court ruling issued last week specifically overturned a New York law that had been in place since 1913 and required that people applying for a concealed carry permit demonstrate a specific need to have a gun in public, such as showing an imminent threat to their safety. The court’s conservative majority said that violated the Second Amendment, which they interpreted as protecting people’s right to carry a gun for self-defense outside the home.

Reaction from the left would make one think the court’s decision put a gun in the hand of every person walking the street. Reaction from the right, meanwhile, was similarly predictably over the top.

Such reactions are common in Supreme Court rulings, when the reality is the court’s language is much more nuanced.

First, only a handful of states have a similar conceal carry provision as New York’s now unconstitutional “specific need” requirement. Most states will see no immediate change. And even in states where new legal challenges are raised there will be a much-needed period of years for cases to be heard.

Second, what the court really did last week was to say governments must be specific if they are going to infringe on a right specifically written into the U.S. Constitution. That’s important in states where legislatures show no compunction taking such matters into their own hands.

It’s worth noting Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t just vote to rule New York’s 1913 law unconstitutional — they gave states a roadmap to the types of laws that would pass constitutional musted. Such laws include requiring people to get a license to carry a gun, including the use of background checks and mental health records. States can also limit where guns are allowed, suggesting that states can prohibit firearms in “sensitive places” such as schools, courthouses or polling places.

The court’s ruling, then, is as much about overreach by vague, poorly written laws as it was a flag-waving rebuke of a blue state’s legislative authority.

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