The right to bear arms. Few issues draw more opinions and emotion. Now it's the focus of a Supreme Court case that could open the door for more people to carry guns in places across America where they're most restricted. In today's cover story, Lisa Fletcher looks at both sides of an important Second Amendment case.
At this gun range near Philadelphia, people obviously have strong opinions about the laws that dictate who can legally buy and carry firearms, and under what circumstances.
Lisa Fletcher: A lot of gun owners — we're here at a gun range — they come out, they practice, they take lessons.
David Regis: It is a big responsibility. You have to know what you're doing. It's not road rage. It's not, "I'm having an argument, I want to pull out a gun and end it real fast." It is a moment where you know you're about to die, and you have one opportunity to walk out of here alive, and it's to use your firearm.
The majority of states allow residents to carry guns with minimal restrictions. Eight states are largely considered to have the strictest gun control laws in the nation, requiring various licenses and permits to legally own rifles, shotguns and handguns.
Among those, New York state has such strict rules to carry a weapon that's hidden or concealed from others outside the home, residents must convince a local official they have a special need to protect themselves. It’s long been a sore point for gun rights advocates, especially in New York City, where crime, in the first month of this year, increased almost 40 percent over January 2021.
Many argue there’s a great and growing need for personal protection and a constitutional right to bear arms embedded in the second amendment.
New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams, admits even he doesn’t feel safe here.
Eric Adams, New York City Mayor: We are going to drive down crime and we are going to make sure New Yorkers feel safe in our Subway system. And they don't feel that way now. I don't feel that way when I take the train.
Now, gun rights advocates are challenging New York’s restrictive gun law in court, on behalf of two people who were denied concealed weapon permits. At issue, the constitutionality of the system used by the state of New York to grant those permits.
At the Supreme Court in November, attorney Paul Clement represented the two denied permit-holders.
Paul Clement, Attorney for the Plaintiffs: That is not how constitutional rights work. Carrying a firearm outside the home is a fundamental constitutional right. It is not some extraordinary action that requires an extraordinary demonstration of need.
And they seem to have a sympathetic ear among many, including conservative Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito, who alluded to crime and the right to self-defense.
Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito: All these people with illegal guns, they're on the subway, they're walking around the streets. But the ordinary, hard-working, law-abiding people I mentioned, no, they can't be armed.”
Retired New York City Police Detective Michael Alcazar echoed the sentiment when we recently spoke with him in Pennsylvania.
Michael Alcazar: I see it as a New Yorker, and I see it as a police officer. I want it to work. I do believe people have the right to carry because it's dangerous out there.
Lisa Fletcher: Could the city be safer if citizens had the ability to carry a weapon in a concealed manner?
Michael Alcazar: I want bad guys to be uncomfortable, to second guess before they take an action that might cost them their lives or might injure them. I like that idea that criminals will be looking to see, "Maybe this guy is not the guy, or this gal is not the person to rob today."
But during the Supreme Court arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer warned that throwing out New York’s gun law could make New York more dangerous.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer: You think that in New York City people should have considerable freedom to carry concealed weapons. I think that people of good moral character who start drinking a lot and who may be there for a football game or some kind of soccer game can get pretty angry at each other, and if they each have a concealed weapon, who knows?
Paul Clement, Attorney for the Plaintiffs: So, Justice Breyer, there really isn’t a case that includes very large cities — like Phoenix, like Houston, like Chicago — they have not had demonstrably worse problems with this than the five or six states that have the regime that New York has.
Though many factors impact crime rates, there is data to support Clement’s argument. Murder rates in Florida, Arizona and Georgia dropped in the years after the states passed laws in favor of concealed carry, according to one analysis
With a very real possibility the Supreme Court could change New York’s gun restrictions, more than a century old, New York State Senator Luis Sepulveda worries it could actually make New York’s crime problem worse.
New York State Senator Luis Sepulveda: It's a terrible crisis that I don't think we're dealing with appropriately.
He represents the Bronx, one of New York’s five boroughs.
New York State Senator Luis Sepulveda: And I know that if you're going to get more guns into this community, it's going to create more problems for law enforcement and for safety for our community.
Lisa Fletcher: Laws work because people abide by them. And criminals are criminals because they don't abide by the law. So when you're talking about the Supreme Court making a decision that would establish law that allows law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon, I don't understand how that compounds the problem that you're talking about.
New York State Senator Luis Sepulveda: If you give people access, if you relax the laws, more people are going to be able to purchase weapons. When you have people purchasing weapons, ultimately some of these weapons are going to be sold, and they're going to be sold illegally to people who should not have guns in their hands.
The possible impact of the Supreme Court’s decision is being debated far beyond the Big Apple, in places like Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Boston, where the restrictive gun laws in place could soon tumble, paving the way for law-abiding citizens to carry concealed guns.
And statistics show there is a growing appetite for them. Last year, more than 21 million concealed carry permits were issued, up from 2.7 million in 1999.
Supreme Court case aside, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, running for re-election, recently hinted he’ll work with state lawmakers to eliminate the requirement for any gun licenses or permits.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp: In the face of rising violent crime across the country, law-abiding citizens should have their constitutional rights protected, not undermined.
Back in Pennsylvania, Alcazar, the retired detective, says if gun restrictions are lifted, it will only be the beginning of other major changes.
Lisa Fletcher: How would officers be retrained for this?
Michael Alcazar: Wow, I don't know. In New York, that's a big undertaking. A lot of policies have to be rewritten. The patrol guide is going to have to be updated. I picture just riding in the subway and just thinking about like, "Oh my God, if all these people had guns and something goes off, this could quickly become a dangerous situation where it could turn deadly."
Sharyl (on-camera): Any idea why the court took this case when it's turned down so many Second Amendment cases before?
Lisa Fletcher: Some experts say it could be because of the conservative majority on the bench. We listened to the arguments from start to finish, and, in most cases, the justices were equal opportunity challengers to both sides. We also contacted the lead plaintiff's attorney in the case, and he said they haven't gotten any updates, and it could take until June for the court to make a decision.