The US Supreme Court has struck down a New York firearms law in a major ruling on gun rights.
The justices’ 6-3 decision is expected to allow more people to legally carry guns on the streets of the nation’s largest cities — including New York, Los Angeles and Boston — and elsewhere.
About a quarter of the US population live in states expected to be affected by the ruling, the high court’s first major gun decision in more than a decade.
The ruling comes as Congress is working on gun legislation following recent mass shootings in Texas, New York and California.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defence outside the home”.
In their decision, the justices struck down a New York state law requiring people to demonstrate a particular need for carrying a gun in order to get a licence to carry one in public.
The justices said the requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms”.
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have similar laws likely to be challenged as a result of the ruling.
President Joe Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” by the court’s decision.
In a statement, the president said the ruling “contradicts both common sense and the constitution, and should deeply trouble us all”.
He added that after mass shootings across the US, the country should be doing more, not less, to rein in firearm availability.
He urged states to “enact and enforce common-sense laws to make their citizens and communities safer from gun violence”.
“I call on Americans across the country to make their voices heard on gun safety. Lives are on the line,” he added.
In the Senate, a bipartisan gun violence Bill was on the brink of passage on Thursday as lawmakers voted to halt a Republican filibuster against the measure.
After years of procedural delays that derailed Democratic efforts to curb firearms, Democrats and some Republicans decided that congressional inaction was untenable following last month’s horrific rampages in New York and Texas.
It took nearly a month of closed-door talks but a group of senators from both parties emerged with an 80-page compromise.
The measure would toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states implement “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged dangerous.
It would also fund local programmes for school safety, mental health and violence prevention.
Backers of New York’s law argued that striking it down would ultimately lead to more guns on the streets and higher rates of violent crime.
The decision comes at a time when gun violence, already on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, has spiked again.
In most of the country gun owners have little difficulty legally carrying their weapons in public.
But that had been harder to do in New York and the handful of states with similar laws.
New York’s law, which has been in place since 1913, says that to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a licence has to show “proper cause” – a specific need to carry the weapon.
The state issues unrestricted licences where a person can carry their gun anywhere and restricted licences that allow a person to carry the weapon but just for specific purposes such as hunting and target shooting or to and from their place of business.
The Supreme Court last issued a major gun decision in 2010.
In that decision and a ruling from 2008 the justices established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defence. The question for the court this time was about carrying one outside the home.
The court has previously indicated there is no problem with restrictions on carrying guns in “sensitive places” including government buildings and schools. It has said the same about restricting felons and the mentally ill from carrying guns.
The challenge to the New York law was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest firearms advocacy organisation, and two men seeking an unrestricted ability to carry guns outside their homes.
The court’s decision is somewhat out of step with public opinion.
About half of voters in the 2020 presidential election said gun laws in the US should be made more strict, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the electorate.
An additional third said laws should be kept as they are while only about one in 10 said gun laws should be less strict.
About 8 in 10 Democratic voters said gun laws should be made more strict, VoteCast showed. Among Republican voters, roughly half said laws should be kept as they are while the remaining half closely divided between more and less strict.