Supreme Court mulls limits of Second Amendment in New York gun law case

Gun rights and the Second Amendment were front-and-center at the Supreme Court Wednesday, in the first major test of gun regulations since the court said gun ownership was a right protected by the Constitution. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gun rights and the Second Amendment were front and center at the Supreme Court today.

    As John Yang reports, it's the first major test of gun regulations since the court said that gun ownership was a right protected by the Constitution.

  • John Yang:

    While the Supreme Court has said the Constitution gives Americans the right to keep a gun at home, gun rights advocates say that should apply outside the home as well.

    Tom King, President, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association: The Second Amendment doesn't end at your doorstep.

  • John Yang:

    Tom King is president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

  • Tom King:

    I think that someone who is not otherwise prohibited should be issued a concealed-carry permit without any problems at all.

  • John Yang:

    King's group sued New York on behalf of two Upstate members who are licensed to both were denied concealed-carry permits for self-defense because officials said they didn't prove they needed them.

  • Tom King:

    They were turned down for no reason at all, OK, no reason given, other than, I don't think that you need it.

  • John Yang:

    When the Supreme Court recognized an individual right to gun ownership in 2008, the ruling, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, acknowledged that the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.

    Gun control backers argue that limits are needed to protect another right.

    Kris Brown, president of the advocacy group Brady:

  • Kris Brown, President, Brady:

    It's about the right to live, about our ability as Americans to walk down the street, to leave our homes, to go to church, to go to synagogue, and actually be able not to fear being shot. That's ultimately what's at stake in this case.

  • John Yang:

    While King, a member of the National Rifle Association's Board of Director, says that big city gun laws do little to curb violent crime, Brown says that licensing systems like New York state's do.

  • Kris Brown:

    States that don't have robust permitting systems have on average, at minimum, about a 12 percent increase or spike in gun-related violence in those states. These permitting systems work.

  • John Yang:

    New York is one of eight states plus the District of Columbia that require gun owners to prove a need for a concealed-carry permit.

    Some of today's oral arguments focused on the history of gun regulation in America, which the court had used to establish the right to gun ownership. Justice Sonia Sotomayor pressed the attorney arguing for the gun group on which history was relevant.

  • Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice:

    In Colonial America, at least four, if not five states restricted on concealed arms. After the Civil War, there were many, many more such states. Some included in their Constitution that you can have a right to arms, but not concealed.

    I don't know how I get past all that history, without you sort of making it up and saying there's a right to control states that has never been exercised in the entire history of the United States, as to how far they can go in saying this poses a danger.

  • John Yang:

    Chief Justice John Roberts asked one of the attorneys arguing in support of the New York law why someone should have to show a special need to exercise a constitutional right.

    John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court: So, why do you have to show — in this case, convince somebody that you're entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?

    You can say that the right is limited in a particular way, just as First Amendment rights are limited. But the idea that you need a license to exercise the right, I think, is unusual in the context of the Bill of Rights.

    Marcia Coyle, "The National Law Journal": That showed one indication that the chief justice is thinking that there's something not quite right here about what's going on.

  • John Yang:

    Marcia Coyle, chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal."

  • Marcia Coyle:

    The court appeared just as divided as they were in 2008. And, in 2008, the court was divided over what the right in the Second Amendment meant. But, this time, they're looking at, what is the scope of that right?

  • John Yang:

    Roberts and other justices pushed the gun owners' attorney on whether the right to bear arms extends everywhere, the New York City subway, crowded football stadiums, Times Square on New Year's Eve.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    This is why this case is difficult. There is this balance between public safety and a constitutional right.

  • John Yang:

    The court will likely rule by next summer.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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