States Scrambling To Outmaneuver Supreme Court on Guns

States are testing a wide variety of new gun laws — with red states vastly expanding gun rights and blue states imposing even stricter laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Bruen ruling. 

AP/José Luis Villegas
Governor Newsom is leading the charge among state leaders to further restrict gun rights despite the Supreme Court's ruling in the Bruen case. AP/José Luis Villegas

A Supreme Court decision, your governor’s ambitions, and decisions by local law enforcement will determine the extent to which many Americans may exercise their right to keep and bear arms for the foreseeable future. 

Following the landmark Supreme Court decision in New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, blue states’ gun regulations have been thrown into uncertainty. The confusion around what is and what is not permissible under the Bruen decision is likely to be addressed by the court in the coming years.

In the meantime, states are testing a wide variety of new gun laws — with red states vastly expanding gun rights and blue states imposing even stricter laws. 

California is poised to soon join the fray. Governor Newsom, seen by many as a potential Democratic presidential candidate, has a long record of opposition to Second Amendment rights. 

In 2021, after Texas passed a law that allowed private citizens to bring civil suits against other individuals suspected of obtaining or aiding and abetting abortions, Mr. Newsom signed a law that legalized a similar civil lawsuit mechanism, except for firearms. Private citizens in California can now sue those who illegally sell, distribute, or import so-called assault weapons for up to $10,000. 

In 2023, expect the Golden State to go even further. The California state senate on Wednesday took up a bill that would clarify the state’s gun restrictions in the wake of the Bruen decision. Senate Bill 2 calls for a new licensure regime that “protects public safety” as well as “individual rights” — but not the right to bear arms. The bill says that the aim is to protect the rights to “worship, attain an education, vote, and peaceably assemble and demonstrate,” but the final language is not set in stone.

The president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, John Lott, said California is “making it very difficult” for law enforcement to do its job and for individuals to protect themselves. In an email to the Sun, Mr. Lott said California’s “list of ‘protecting citizens’ rights’ is missing an extremely important one: people’s right to self-defense.”

Senate Bill 2 is a preliminary measure meant to be a framework for gun restrictions, but signals that California intends to take a gun control stance similar to those of New York and New Jersey, states that are being sued for banning weapons from “sensitive places.” 

Florida, on the other hand, is likely to join a host of states in adopting what is known as “constitutional carry” — or the right to carry a weapon without a permit. Governor DeSantis said at a press conference last month that it is something he has “always supported,” and predicted that the legislature would pass the bill in 2023. 

Mr. DeSantis said the Florida house speaker, Paul Renner, “pledged publicly that it’s moving forward,” and will be considered when the legislature reconvenes in March. 

Wyoming, a deep red state, is considering a bill that would drastically expand where guns could be carried in public. Although Bruen declared that the state can reasonably restrict where guns are permissible, the Wyoming legislature has decided to move forward with abolishing “gun free zones,” meaning residents would be allowed to carry guns in government buildings, including the state capitol building, public K–12 schools, public universities, and professional athletic events.  

Governor Pritzker of Illinois has been one of the gun control movement’s favorite leaders. In 2021, he signed into law universal background checks — a key priority for gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. 

On January 10, Mr. Pritzker signed the Protect Illinois Communities Act, which bans assault-style weapons sales and ownership in the state. It also bans magazines that hold more than 10 rounds for long-barrel rifles and 15 rounds for handguns. 

“Today, Illinois lawmakers listened to voters and agreed on a package of common-sense policies to get assault weapons and high-capacity magazines off the streets, help keep guns away from people in crisis, and hold illegal gun traffickers accountable for taking advantage of weak laws in neighboring states,” the president of Everytown, John Feinblatt, said in a statement. 

Mr. Lott said that these regulations have been disproven to have any effect on crime in the past. “Banning some semi-automatic guns based on their looks when there are other functionally identical guns that fire the same bullets with the same rapidity and doing the same damage is illogical,” Mr. Lott told the Sun. 

All three of these men — Messrs. Newsom, DeSantis, and Pritzker — are seen as potential presidential candidates. As the leaders of large states, they would be fierce contenders for money and media attention. 

Despite these governors’ possible presidential hopes, local law enforcement may have some say in enacting the laws. Following the signing of the Protect Illinois Communities Act, about 80 sheriffs in the state announced they would not enforce a law they believe to be unconstitutional. 

“As the custodian of the jail and chief law enforcement official for Monroe County, neither myself nor my office will be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the State,” Sheriff Neal Rohlfing wrote, adding that his department would not “be arresting or housing law abiding individuals that have been arrested solely with non-compliance of this Act.”

This new dynamic, brought upon lawmakers by the Supreme Court’s decision last summer, reflects a widening gap between the gun control movement and Second Amendment advocates. For the time being, your ZIP code will be a big determining factor in whether you have access to certain weapons.

The New York Sun

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