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The Supreme Court strikes down N.Y. law that restricts concealed carrying of guns

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A decades-old movie set in New York mentions the Sullivan Law. That's the gun law the Supreme Court struck down yesterday. In that old movie, "On The Waterfront," a corrupt union boss is under investigation. And he seizes the pistols of his mob-style thugs so they won't get arrested for carrying concealed weapons.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ON THE WATERFRONT")

LEE J COBB: (As Johnny) Did you ever hear of the Sullivan Law? They'll be down on us for the slightest infraction now, anything. I'm going to be indicted any minute. Come on now, give me, give me, give me. When you get it through your heads, they're dusting off a hot seat for me.

INSKEEP: We're a law-abiding union, he says. So he takes the guns. And in the climactic scene, he beats up Marlon Brando's character instead of shooting him. Now, if you remade that movie in 2022, you would have to tweak the script because the Supreme Court threw out that century-old law and made it easier for law-abiding citizens in New York to get a license to carry concealed firearms. NPR's Brian Mann is covering this. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did the law do?

MANN: Well, New York's been one of half a dozen states that until now have required people to demonstrate some kind of special need before they could get a permit to carry firearms out in public. So two men who applied for these public carry permits were rejected. They filed a lawsuit. And their case made its way all the way to the Supreme Court. So in this majority ruling yesterday, Judge - Justice Clarence Thomas said New York's restrictions on carrying guns outside the home do, in fact, violate the Second Amendment. He concluded that New York officials have been using too much discretion, denying these permits to law-abiding people. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer points out that guns are claiming more than 40,000 American lives every year. Breyer said this ruling is going to burden efforts to curb that violence, not just in New York state, but across the country.

INSKEEP: I would imagine New York state officials are also dissenting.

MANN: Yeah, they're furious. I spoke yesterday, Steve, with Byron Brown. He's mayor in Buffalo, where 10 people were killed in that mass shooting just in May.

BYRON BROWN: The nation is reeling from mass shootings. So the timing of this Supreme Court decision could not have been worse.

MANN: And officials here are also alarmed that guns could now be a lot more common in crowded places, like New York City's subway system, Times Square and places like Central Park.

INSKEEP: How does this affect other states?

MANN: Yeah. This ruling could make guns much more common in public areas. Also, in states like California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, leaders in those states are condemning this decision. They say they're going to try to work around it, looking for new ways to limit the impact. That could include designating more sensitive places where guns aren't allowed. In a press conference yesterday, New York City's mayor, Eric Adams, a former NYPD police officer, called on New York's legislature to hold a special session to pass new gun laws.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC ADAMS: We will not allow the men and women of the police department to be subjected to further danger, making their already difficult jobs even more harrowing.

MANN: But, you know, Steve, all these states face a complicated path now. It's unclear what new regulations will pass muster before this very conservative Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: I want to dwell on your state, New York, for a minute. A lot of urban areas, of course, but also a lot of rural areas, a lot of political opinions. How are people responding?

MANN: Well, Republican lawmakers are praising this ruling. But there are also business owners who sound really nervous. I spoke with Benji White yesterday. He runs a coffee shop in Westport, N.Y.

BENJI WHITE: I'm one of those people who thinks that we're safer when there are fewer guns in the community. And I would not like to see or know that anybody's coming in my shop carrying. And if I saw one, I'd be very uneasy.

MANN: I also spoke with Frank Slycord yesterday, a bar owner in Port Henry, N.Y., who describes himself as very conservative, very pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun rights. There were actually a bunch of rifles up on the walls of his bar. But he, too, voiced concern about the idea of more people turning up in his bar with guns.

FRANK SLYCORD: I can understand the theory about wanting to be protected, protect your family when you're out and about. I'm still a little iffy about the thought that you can take one anywhere you go. If you're carrying a firearm, are you going to be more likely to pull your firearm?

MANN: So Steve, this is something now that people are going to be faced with, not just in New York, but in half a dozen states, like California and Massachusetts, where carrying guns in public has been strictly regulated. I should say, elected officials in all of those states are now scrambling to react to this. And they're looking at possible new regulations. We'll see where that goes.

INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann is in upstate New York. Brian, thanks.

MANN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.