New York, NY –
The Supreme Court has ruled that cities and states cannot violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms when they enact gun control laws. By a 5-4 vote, the Court held that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live, and it asked the lower court to decide whether Chicago's 28-year-old ban on handguns is constitutional.
Although it's not yet clear what the decision will mean for states and cities with less restrictive gun rules, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he's confident the ruling will not jeopardize New York City's gun control laws.
"We don't think that it is going to have a detrimental effect," Bloomberg says. "I'm sure it will cause some more lawsuits, but the court clearly said that reasonable regulations--as opposed to a ban-- are acceptable under the Second Amendment."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn chimed in, saying that "at first blush," the decision doesn't seem to impact any city laws, but she said she has asked her general counsel to look into the issue.
Throughout his administration, Mayor Bloomberg has pushed to rid the city of illegal guns. The city does not ban handguns or other firearms, but it restricts who can own them. Second Amendment advocates say the city has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, including some of the highest permit fees. In 2006, the City Council passed legislation creating a gun offender registry, which permits people to buy only one handgun in a 90-day period. And unlike other cities in the state, pistol permits here expire every three years and must be renewed.
The Mayor's chief policy advisor and lead gun policy architect for Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition (the organization Bloomberg formed with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino),John Feinblatt, says the Supreme Court ruling doesn't cripple states and cities that want to enact reasonable gun control regulations.
"No constitutional right is absolute," says Feinblatt. "Just like with the First Amendment, you can't yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. The Court has written there's no absolute right to a gun."
Feinblatt says New York City strikes the right tone.
"New York City has a regulatory scheme that tries to balance the individual right to a gun with public safety," he says, "and we're doing an awfully good job of it. We're the safest big city in America," Feinblatt says.
But gun advocates say the Supreme Court ruling shows the Court will give robust protection to the Second Amendment. Tom King, President of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, says his group might use the decision to challenge the city's tough gun control laws. He says the permit application fees in New York City--which reach a few hundred dollars--dwarf fees in other parts of the state. King says in some cities in New York, a permit could cost as little as $15 and the gun owner would never have to renew the permit, unlike in New York City. King also says the city's storage requirements are cumbersome.
"You have to have it locked up or disassembled, and you have to have the ammunition in a different room. It's ridiculous," King says.
In a statement, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly expressed confidence in the city's regulations and says the NYPD's licensing procedures provide "reasonable safeguards," while observing the rights of what he called, "the law abiding public."
Anti-gun violence advocates say it won't be a surprise if the Supreme Court decision inspires a spurt of litigation to strike down local gun control laws around the country. What regulations are permissible will be clarified through that litigation.
"There's a whole world of common sense gun violence prevention laws that can be enacted that are consistent with the Second Amendment right," says Ben Van Houten, a staff attorney for Legal Community Against Gun Violence.
Two years ago, Washington D.C.'s handgun-ban was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.