Politics

Supreme Court decision on New York gun law could affect Massachusetts gun policies

FILE - A handgun from a collection of illegal guns is reviewed during a gun buyback event in Brooklyn, N.Y., May 22, 2021. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, FIle


The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York state law that had restricted who could obtain a permit to carry a gun in public. Under the law in place since 1913, New York residents needed to show proper cause, or an actual need, to carry a concealed handgun in public for self-defense.

The justices said that law conflicts with the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. It drew swift reaction from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who called the decision reckless and said she was prepared to call the Legislature back into session to form a response.

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“We do not need people entering our subways, our restaurants and movie theaters with concealed weapons,” she said. “We don’t need more guns on our streets.”

New York and a half a dozen other states with similar laws now must decide their next steps. As with New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have legislatures controlled by Democrats who could propose measures to ensure that guns will not be allowed in certain places.

Gun rights groups in those states have vowed to continue pushing back against what they view as restrictive gun control laws. Some of those cases eventually could make their way to the nation’s high court.

Massachusetts’ law had given local police chiefs the power to decide whether someone is suitable to have a license to carry a handgun. Police chiefs have been able to deny applicants if they determine that the person would pose a risk to public safety, for reasons such as a history of domestic violence. Those who are denied can appeal to their local district court.

The law says those deemed suitable can get a license to carry if they show “good reason to fear injury” to themselves or their property “or for any other reason,” including “for use in sport or target practice only.”

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What’s considered a “good reason” has been up to police chiefs, who vary in what they require of applicants to meet that standard. Some demand that applicants show they have a reason to fear injury that distinguishes them from the general population in order to get an unrestricted license.

Massachusetts courts have ruled that if someone can’t show a “good reason to fear injury,” police chiefs can put restrictions on licenses that limit when someone can carry a firearm.

State Attorney General Maura Healey said Thursday that she stands by the state’s “commonsense gun laws and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce them.” The office has not responded to questions from The Associated Press about to what extent Massachusetts’ law will be affected by the ruling.

Jason Guida, former director of the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau who now works as a lawyer representing gun owners, said state laws restricting the carry of guns outside the home will now be challenged and likely overturned.

Communities that restrict gun owners’ licenses for certain purposes unless applicants show a special need for self-defense will need to rewrite their policies, “otherwise there’s a strong likelihood in the very near future that these communities will find themselves in federal court,” he said.

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State Rep. David Linksy, a Democrat who has advocated for gun control measures, said he is still examining the ruling but is deeply concerned about its potential effect on police chiefs’ ability to use their discretion when issuing gun licenses.

“The end result is there will be an increase in gun violence,” he said. “There will be people killed, there will be people injured, and we will all be less safe.”

A federal judge wrote in a 2017 case that Massachusetts law is “in some respects” less restrictive than New York’s because Massachusetts allows — but doesn’t demand— that police chiefs require applicants to “demonstrate a special need for self-defense before being issued an unrestricted license.”

Democratic state Rep. Michael Day, House chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers have a range of choices depending on the specifics of the court ruling.

“All options are on the table,” he said.

Associated Press writers Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston; Don Thompson in Sacramento, California; Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York; and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.

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