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President Joe Biden hits out after US Supreme Court backs right to carry handguns in public

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Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo: Erin Schaff

Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo: Erin Schaff

Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo: Erin Schaff

The US Supreme Court declared yesterday for the first time that the country’s Constitution protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun in public for self-defence, handing a landmark victory to gun rights advocates in a nation deeply divided over how to address firearms violence.

The 6-3 ruling, with the court’s conservative justices in the majority and liberal justices in dissent, struck down New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home. The court found that the law, enacted in 1913, violated a person’s right to “keep and bear arms” under the US Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The ruling, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, declared that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defence outside the home.” He added: “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”

The ruling could undermine similar restrictions in other states and imperil other types of state and local firearms restrictions nationwide.

Gun rights, held dear by many Americans and promised by the country’s 18th century founders, are a contentious issue in a nation with high levels of firearms violence including numerous mass shootings. President Joe Biden, who has called gun violence a national embarrassment, condemned the decision.

“This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” Biden said. “We must do more as a society to protect our fellow Americans.”

The United States has experienced hundreds of deaths from dozens of mass shootings in recent years. In recent weeks, 19 children and two teachers were killed on May 24 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and ten people were slain on May 14 at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

The New York restriction is unconstitutional because it “prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defence needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms,” Thomas added. 

The justices overturned a lower court ruling throwing out a challenge to the law by two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA), an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans.

The decision represents the court’s most important statement on gun rights in more than a decade. The court in 2008 recognised for the first time an individual’s right to keep guns at home for self-defence in a case from the District of Columbia, and in 2010 applied that right to the states. 
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, called the ruling “absolutely shocking.”

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