In the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban was invalid because it violated the constitutional right to armed self-defense. Two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court said states also are obligated to respect that right. Because both Heller and McDonald addressed laws banning handguns within the home, the Court left unresolved how the right to keep and bear arms applies in public.
In April, the Supreme Court announced it would consider that question when it hears arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett. At issue is New York's requirement that anyone seeking a license to carry a concealed handgun in public satisfy a local official that he has "proper cause" to do so.
What counts as "proper cause"? According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit's 2012 decision in Kachalsky v. Westchester, a "generalized desire to carry a concealed weapon to protect one's person and property does not constitute 'proper cause.'" In other words, basic self-defense is not sufficient.
"A law that flatly prohibits ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying a handgun for self-defense outside the home cannot be reconciled with the [Supreme] Court's affirmation of the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," argues the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. "The Second Amendment does not exist to protect only the rights of the happy few who distinguish themselves from the body of 'the people' through some 'proper cause.' To the contrary, the Second Amendment exists to protect the rights of all the people."
At least two justices seem ready to agree. In 2017, Clarence Thomas, joined by Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the Court's refusal to hear a case that asked whether the Constitution protects the right to carry guns in public. "As we explained in Heller," Thomas wrote, "to 'bear arms' means to 'wear, bear, or carry upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.' The most natural reading of this definition encompasses public carry…..I find it extremely improbable that the Framers understood the Second Amendment to protect little more than carrying a gun from the bedroom to the kitchen."
If at least three other justices agree, this case could go down in the books as another landmark victory for Second Amendment advocates.