June was quite a month for the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Dobbs abortion case didn’t rock everybody’s world enough, on June 23, the Court handed down another important decision on gun control, New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc., et al. v Bruen, et al. The complete text of this case can be found on the U.S. Supreme Court website.
The case arose from a challenge to the state of New York’s concealed carry law. The New York law has a provision that requires a license to carry a handgun in New York; the applicant must demonstrate that they have “proper cause” to carry.
To establish the proper cause required by the New York law, an applicant must “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”
The Supreme Court ruled that New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Second and Fourteenth amendments to the U. S. Constitution. In the Bruen case, the Court states that the question central to analyzing any Second Amendment case is the right of individual citizens to armed self-defense. That right of self-defense extends to bearing arms, specifically handguns, outside of one’s home.
As with the abortion case, six of the nine justices (Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Barrett, and Kavanaugh) joined in the majority opinion.
Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan filed a strong dissent. While the majority opinion emphasized the individual citizen’s right of self-defense, the dissent emphasized the harm caused by gun violence in this country.
In fact, the dissent starts with:
“In 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms. …. Since the start of this year (2022), there have been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day. …Gun violence has now surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.”
The dissent ends with a very different view of the New York law:
“New York’s Legislature considered the empirical evidence about gun violence and adopted a reasonable licensing law to regulate the concealed carriage of handguns in order to keep the people of New York safe. The Court today strikes down that law based only on the pleadings. … Because I cannot agree with the Court’s decision to strike New York’s law down without allowing for discovery or the development of any evidentiary record, without considering the State’s compelling interest in preventing gun violence and protecting the safety of its citizens, and without considering the potentially deadly consequences of its decision, I respectfully dissent.”
The divide in the Court on this issue seems to be as wide as the divide in the rest of the country. Minnesota has a conceal carry law but does not have anything like the “proper cause” requirement in the New York law.
However, additional gun control legislation is being discussed in many states, including Minnesota. The Bruen case’s effect on such legislation is open to debate.
In a previous session, the Minnesota House passed two gun control bills, but opposition to those bills prevented consideration by the Minnesota Senate. One bill addressed expanded criminal background checks on gun sales, and the other bill addressed extreme risk protection orders.
EPLN contacted the Eden Prairie legislators running for re-election on Nov. 8 in the recently redistricted District 49 and their opponents.
Their views on gun control seem to generally track the conservative-liberal split on the Supreme Court.
The Democrat incumbents, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski and House Reps. Laurie Pryor and Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, emphasize gun control legislation and the dangers to the public that firearms represent.
Republican challengers Maria Helseth, Ryan Chase and Thomas Knecht emphasize the constitutional rights of individuals to bear arms.
From the legislators and their opponents
Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-District 49):
“The Second Amendment begins with the phrase, ‘a well regulated … .’ The vastly cited Second Amendment professes the need for regulation along with the right to bear arms. We need to do so much more to regulate the policies that allow guns to fall into the wrong hands, give access to tools designed for mass murder, and neglect the safety of our communities. I wish I had a hidden camera in my classroom for all the times I had to announce, ‘There was another school shooting this morning.’ The looks on my student’s faces screamed into the silence ‘can’t you adults keep us safe?’ We need to keep our youth safe from doing harm to others and doing harm to themselves. To that I am committed!”
Marla Helseth, Cwodzinski’s Republican opponent:
“Remember that the Supreme Court is a Court, not a Legislature. That it makes decisions that go against popular opinion does not change the Court’s job. If one looks at the Second and Fourteenth Amendments, it is clear that what Justice Thomas says is correct, ‘authorities must issue concealed-carry licenses whenever applicants satisfy certain threshold requirements, without granting licensing officials discretion to deny licenses based on a perceived lack of need or suitability.’
From what I read of the law and of Justice Thomas’ opinion, the Court made the right decision. The decision doesn’t affect law-abiding Minnesotans, however, who would want to carry a gun. In Minnesota, if you meet the requirements and are approved by the proper officials, those officials ‘shall issue’ you a permit (sometimes called ‘shall issue’ laws).”
Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-District 49A):
“Crime and public safety are important issues. Minnesota does not have a law similar to New York. There is language and the opinion is that they did not address other issues. I am still hopeful that we can pass reasonable gun control legislation that will pass constitutional muster. I co-authored two gun control bills that passed the House but were not heard in the Senate. Those bills would have expanded criminal background checks and addressed extreme risk protection orders. The bill addressing criminal background checks did have a provision exempting situations where guns are being passed down by family members. I would support something similar being introduced in the next session.”
Ryan Chase, Pryor’s Republican opponent:
“I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the control that New York has on its law-abiding citizens. I don’t believe this will have an effect on our state as our statutes are more inclusive and allow citizens due process to attain a permit to carry. With the recent increase in crime, some may consider pursuing a permit to carry. I support that decision just as I understand the immense responsibility that comes with it.”
Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL-District 49B):
“You must be at least 21 years old, must pass a background check, and must complete a firearms safety course to get a permit to carry a pistol in Minnesota — currently, the Supreme Court views these as acceptable restrictions. While this recent SCOTUS decision doesn’t impact the laws Eden Prairie residents currently follow, we need to both keep an eye on this radical court AND fight for enactment of the common sense proposals like Universal Criminal Background Checks and a Red Flag law that we’ve already passed in the Minnesota House. These proposals have been signed into law in a number of Republican-controlled states, and data shows the impact to the safety of residents. Justice Breyer hit the nail on the head in his dissent when he said, ‘The question before us concerns the extent to which the Second Amendment prevents democratically elected officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence.’”
Thomas Knecht, Kotyza-Witthuhn’s Republican opponent:
“The decision will not impact regulations in Minnesota because Minnesota is not one of the six states that had a ‘proper cause’ standard for licenses to carry a handgun, Instead, Minnesota is a ‘shall-issue’ state. The Minnesota regulations will not change in light of the decision in New York State Rifle Association v Bruen.
“Nationwide, the decision will prevent states from adopting policies that are potentially discriminatory against racial minorities and economically disadvantaged individuals, who were unduly burdened and prosecuted in ‘proper cause’ jurisdictions.
“We must prioritize public safety and regardless of any court decision, we must develop strong policies that provide police officers the resources they need, push back against harmful narratives that villainize the police and embolden criminals, and combat the violent crime plaguing the Twin Cities and spreading to the suburbs.”
Editor’s note: Frank Farrell is a longtime Eden Prairie resident and an attorney for more than 40 years.