Supreme Court protest demonstration
Courtesy Kevin Hulbert

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By Rob Morse

The case currently before the Supreme Court — New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. v. Bruen — hinges on the fact that government officials in New York state can choose whether or not to give ordinary citizens a license to carry a concealed firearm in public. About one out of twelve of us carry in public now. That isn’t true in New York state where ordinary people are denied the right to carry personal firearms in public.

Also consider the fact that New York has arrested people who tried to pass through the state with a firearm. Now the case in front of the US Supreme Court takes on a different character.

We’ve seen similar cases before, people who were driving up the east coast of the United States. They drove through Washington D.C. where they were pulled over for an ordinary traffic stop and shaken down for a traffic fine. They were also carrying a firearm at the time and were arrested for carrying an unregistered firearm in the District of Columbia.

Until 2018, Washington, D.C. didn’t issue permits so ordinary people could carry and transport their firearms in public. So someone arrested while driving through would pay fines, pay court fees, and pay lawyer’s fees, and have a criminal conviction on their record.

At that time, the district didn’t even have a carry permit process. It was impossible for us to register, to carry, and then to legally transport a firearm through the district. Later, the district’s permit laws were ruled unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the district must issue permits so that ordinary people could carry ordinary firearms in ordinary places. That’s progress, but it gets better.

Later, a judge ruled that the district could require a permit, but the district could not prosecute someone who didn’t have a permit that was impossible for them to get. Individuals who were prosecuted in DC for the non-violent possessory offense of having a gun as they passed through DC asked to be reimbursed and to have their records cleared. A judge ruled that the city owes them their attorney’s fees and to expunge their record of a criminal conviction.

An individual should not be punished for noncompliance with an unconstitutional law. If they were unjustly punished, then they deserve restitution. So far, only a few people have applied for restitution in DC. There is a larger class action lawsuit that needs to be filed against the district.

Though that’s all good, it’s a trifle compared to what has happened in New York. New York City routinely stopped and frisked ordinary people on the street. The state and the city prosecuted travelers who brought firearms with them as they traveled through New York. They prosecuted businessmen who had a decorative knife on their keychain, and they prosecuted Boy Scout troops who carried a Scout knife in their pockets. It prosecuted travelers who arrived at an airport with legal firearms locked in their luggage.

The number of victims is in the tens-of-thousands, if not more. But . . .

Are we safer now that Boy Scouts are disarmed?
Is it moral to demand that people have a license to carry a “weapon” in public,
a license that the state frequently won’t issue to them?

That isn’t the way the current New York case in front of the US Supreme Court is framed. That case was filed by ordinary people in upstate New York who were arbitrarily denied carry permits. The plaintiffs were unlucky enough to draw an official who doesn’t issue permits, while others hearing similar cases in different jurisdictions issue them. The details in how the Supreme Court rules in the New York case will matter to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people.

I hope that laws like New York’s are declared unconstitutional. If state governments owe restitution for prosecution of unconstitutional laws, then they will owe more than an apology. They will also owe the victims of these unconstitutional laws a lot of cash.

I hope the Supreme Court issues a broad ruling. Carrying a pocketknife shouldn’t land you in jail. Making an inadvertent stop at a New York city airport in New York shouldn’t land you in jail either. I hope the Supreme Court rules that states like New York can no longer write and enforce such arbitrary laws, giving bureaucrats a say in who can and can’t exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. And I hope all of those people who were abused by the state will finally get their day in court.


This article originally appeared at Slow Facts and is reprinted here with permission. 

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