“Proper Cause” the Supreme Court to decide on most consequential Second Amendment Case in a decade

By: Tyler Butt

In 2008 the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment “provides an induvial right to keep a handgun at home for self-defense.”[1] Since that ruling, the Supreme Court has largely refused to rule on additional Second Amendment related challenges. However, this upcoming term, the Supreme Court will hear ““perhaps the single most important unresolved Second Amendment question” since the court found an individual right to gun ownership.” [2] Now the court is tasked with determining if New York can prohibit a resident from obtaining a concealed carry permit unless they “demonstrate a special need” for self-protection. [3] The Supreme Court should invalidate New York’s law for being ambiguous in its meaning and application.


It is important to understand the current landscape of the gun debate in the United States. Gun ownership is a complex and often divisive issue for American policy makers. Currently, guns are more prevalent in the United States now than ever before in history. For instance, as of 2020, nearly one-third of American adults owned a gun and “a little more than a third said they might own one in the future.”[4] Furthermore, “Americans own nearly half of all the civilian guns in the world, and on a per capita basis, the U.S has far more guns than any other nation.” [5]

Also, the number of gun owners in America is increasing dramatically. For instance, of the people who bought firearms from January to April of last year “40% of them were first-time gun buyers.”[6]


However, while American gun ownership has been increasing, so has gun crime.

For example, in the time frame between the Supremce Court’s decision in Heller and today gun related deaths have risen to record breaking numbers. For instance, in 2017 “39,773 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S.”[7]



Clearly, these numbers are concerning to state governments, and they prompt different responses from each state. For example, regarding concealed carry permits, which is at issue in Bruen, states differ on how they issue and who can get issued concealed carry permits. Most states issues concealed carry permits on a shall issue basis which means that when a person, assuming they can legally own a firearm, applies for a concealed carry permit they automatically get one.[8] Other states, such as New York, are may issue states that add the additional criteria of getting a permit for a valid reason. [9] Specifically, in Bruen, the issue regards a New York “may issue” law that requires a person who wishes to carry a concealed firearm outside the home to show “proper cause.”[10] For a person to show that they can obtain a permit to concealed carry outside the home, they must show that they “have a special need for self-protection.”[11]


However, under the New York law, it is not clear what a special need for self-protection looks like. The term “proper cause” is ambiguous, and what does not amount to proper cause is clearer than what does. For example, it is clear that “living in or working in a dangerous neighborhood “is not ample justification in obtaining a permit.[12] Ultimately, the decision rests upon a licensing officer to determine if a person has “proper cause” for obtaining a concealed carry permit[13]. The decision to award a person a concealed carry permit is up to the discretion of a person that does not have to follow clear grading criteria. As a result of this law, “most New York residents cannot receive a license to carry.” [14]


State governments may differ and have more localized responses when responding to gun crime. However, the Supreme Court should overturn the New York law because it is does not lay out clear criteria for how to obtain a permit. The law in New York is ambiguous. The law is unclear on who can obtain a permit and the law is not clear as to how the state avoids disparities in who gets a permit and who does not.











[1] Pete Williams, Supreme Court to take up major Second Amendment concealed handgun case, (April 26, 2021, 2:43 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-consider-right-carry-gun-outside-home-n1265357

[2] Robert Barnes, Supreme Court to hear gun-control case next term on carrying weapons outside home, The Washington Post (April 26, 2021, 7:15 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-guns-second-amendment-national-rifle-association/2021/04/26/83e865c8-a690-11eb-8c1a-56f0cb4ff3b5_story.html

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-consider-right-carry-gun-outside-home-n1265357

[4] Jessica Learish, Elisha Fieldstadt, Gun ownership by state, C.B.S News (July 23, 2020, 5:32 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/gun-ownership-rates-by-state/

[5] Brien Wiess, James Pasley, Only 3 countries in the world protect the right to bear arms in their constitutions:  the US, Mexico, and Guatemala, Business Insider (Aug. 6, 2019, 2:42PM), https://www.businessinsider.com/2nd-amendment-countries-constitutional-right-bear-arms-2017-10

[6] Id.

[7] John Gramlich, What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S., Pew Research Center (Aug. 16, 2019), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/16/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/

[8] Mellissa Chan, Madeleine Carlisle, The Supreme Court is Taking up a Case that Could Impact Gun Rights for Millions, Time Magazine (April 26, 2021, 5:15 PM) https://time.com/5958646/supreme-court-gun-rights-case/

[9] Id.

[10] Amy Howe, Court to take up major gun-rights case, Scotusblog (Apr. 26, 2021, 10:50 AM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2021/04/court-to-take-up-major-gun-rights-case/

[11] Id.

[12] Lesson Plan: New York State Rife and Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, Harlan institute (2021)  https://harlaninstitute.org/lesson-plans/lesson-plan-new-york-state-rifle-pistol-association-inc-v-bruen/

[13] Id.

[14] Id.