How the Supreme Court ruling on gun restrictions will impact state laws

While Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on gun restrictions is expected to affect laws in only seven states and Washington, D.C., those states are home to nearly 90 million people, or more than a quarter of the population. Three other states have similar laws but the court's majority said they won't be affected. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the impact.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While today's ruling is expected to affect only a handful of states, those states, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, as well as Washington, D.C., are home to nearly 90 million people, or more than a quarter of the country's populations.

    Three other states have similar laws, but the justices' majority specifically said that this case will not affect them. They are Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

    Joining me now is the attorney general for Connecticut. He's William Tong.

    Mr. Tong, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    We saw in this majority opinion Justice Clarence Thomas saying essentially that the American people have a right to bear arms that cannot be superseded by some requirement imposed by the government. What do you make of that argument?

  • William Tong, Connecticut Attorney General:

    Yes, this is a radical, reckless decision that puts at risk people, children across the country and commonsense gun laws in states like Connecticut and other similar states across the country.

    After Uvalde, after we lost 21 people there, after Buffalo, almost 10 years after we lost 26 people in Sandy Hook, the justices should have stood up and said that states have police power, longstanding police power to protect public safety, and to pass commonsense gun laws. And they went the other way and created an entirely new test that people are struggling to understand.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we see now clearly a majority of the court has spoken.

    We just mentioned a moment ago the states that are directly impacted by this. What do you expect those states to do now? We know every state has a different language in the law. But what do you expect we're going to see?

  • William Tong:

    We expect to see an onslaught of litigation, lawsuits filed by people like the NRA, the gun lobby, people, activists who are trying to dismantle commonsense gun laws.

    After we lost 26 people in Sandy Hook, we passed some of the strongest gun laws in the nation. They are clearly constitutional, but that won't stop the activists and the NRA from coming after Connecticut.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you give us some examples, Attorney General Tong, of the kinds of laws that are now on the books in some of these states that are going to have to be reworked somehow?

  • William Tong:

    Yes, so our assault weapons ban, our high-capacity magazine ban, our red flag law, the domestic violence gun law, our ban on ghost guns, all of these laws are now at risk.

    And that's the problem with this historical analog test that Justice Thomas puts forward, that we have to find that the law is rooted in history and tradition. Well, what does that mean? The problem is, when the Second Amendment came into being in 1791, we didn't have semiautomatic and fully automatic rifles. We didn't have weapons of war on our streets.

    We didn't have the AR-15, and our children weren't targeted in our schools and being massacred.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I just want to go back to Justice Thomas' argument, because, again, what he's saying here is that, if you look at other amendments to the Constitution, not just the Second Amendment, but it's not the case, he argues, that the government can impose restrictions on what is an essential right that Americans have.

    So, he makes that argument. He is speaking for the majority, six out of the nine justices.

  • William Tong:

    Yes. The problem is that flies in the face of longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

    If you look to the two prior cases, the Heller and McDonald cases on gun laws and gun rights and the Second Amendment written by Justice Scalia and Justice Alito, two of the most conservative justices of the last 30 years, in both of those cases, those justices said that states clearly have the power and the authority under our police power to pass commonsense gun laws to keep people safe, period, end of story.

    Justice Thomas now purports to go in a new direction, which is why I call it reckless and radical, and which is why we're concerned it threatens commonsense gun laws across the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as we now know, the Supreme Court has a different makeup than what the court was when those previous decisions were handed down.

    Attorney General Tong, you mentioned a moment — you said a moment ago there going to be a lot of lawsuits going to be a lot of challenges. But the Supreme Court has spoken on this. I mean, how does it work that there are challenges when you have an overwhelming majority coming down, as they did in this case?

  • William Tong:

    Well, the Supreme Court spoke, frankly, on the narrow issue of whether New York's laws regarding the carrying of firearms are constitutional.

    And they found that that law was too vague and discretionary, frankly, and wasn't based on objective standards. Now, we don't agree with that. We support New York. We supported New York in that case. But even though that decision, this decision narrowly focused on the New York law, the import of this new test, this historical analog test potentially speaks to commonsense gun laws in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and across the country.

    And that's why we expect activists, the NRA, the gun lobby to now mine this opinion, as they always do, look for a language that may give them an opening to attack constitutional laws, laws that have stood up to challenge like those in Connecticut.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And let me finally ask you about something else. And that is this bipartisan gun deal working its way through the Congress right now.

    It looks like it is going to have the votes to be passed and signed by the president. How much difference do you think that will make in addressing gun violence in this country?

  • William Tong:

    It will make some difference. And we're very proud of Senator Murphy and Senator Blumenthal here in Connecticut, but we have to do more.

    Our children are getting killed in school. Our children are at risk. And people say that we politicize this issue. How does it politicize this question, if all we're trying to do is keep our children safe? How is that a political question? It's not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The attorney general for the state of Connecticut, William Tong, we thank you.

  • William Tong:

    Thank you.

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