Cruel timing for Biden as court’s gun ruling clouds breakthrough in Congress
President ‘deeply disappointed’ by justices’ decision as bipartisan bill to strengthen gun safety appears ready to pass
When the US supreme court struck down New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns in public, it clouded what should have been a day celebrating a rare breakthrough on one of the most divisive issues in American politics.
No wonder president Joe Biden said he was “disappointed” by the conservative-controlled court’s decision. It was, after all, a serious setback for Biden, who recently emotionally addressed the nation in the wake of a spate of mass shootings and stressed the need to curb Americans’ easy access to powerful weapons.
The 6-3 ruling found that New York’s 111-year-old law violates a person’s right to keep and bear arms under the second amendment to the constitution, and dealt a blow to the president’s efforts to curb gun violence.
Biden has urged Congress to take action after recent shootings in New York, California and Texas, where a teenager shot dead 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school. “Enough!” he pleaded 11 times during a 17-minute address earlier this month, as he sought to channel America’s anger.
Bur Biden has mostly steered clear of gun control negotiations on Capitol Hill, aware that his interventions could prove more hindrance than help in trying to win over Republicans and their pro-gun base.
That strategy appears to have worked, with the Senate poised on Thursday for a vote to advance a bipartisan gun control bill that encourages states to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed dangerous, and tighten background checks for would-be gun purchasers convicted of domestic violence or significant crimes as juveniles.
It does not include more sweeping gun control measure favored by Biden, such as a ban on assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines. Even so, it is opposed by some Republicans and the National Rifle Association, the country’s biggest gun lobby.
With cruel timing, the supreme court ruling was another brutal reminder of Biden’s uphill struggle. The court now has a 6-3 conservative majority, including three justices appointed by Donald Trump, who received strong funding from the NRA.
In a statement released by the White House, Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling, which “contradicts both common sense and the constitution, and should deeply trouble us all”. The president added that “we must do more as a society – not less – to protect our fellow Americans”.
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 a handful of states with similar laws: California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
The Biden administration had urged the justices to uphold New York’s law, which has been in place since 1911 and says that to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license has to show “proper cause” – a specific need to carry the weapon.
However, the justices overturned a lower court ruling throwing out a challenge to the law by two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA. It is likely to ultimately allow more people to legally carry guns on the streets of America’s biggest cities.
Biden’s political opponents gloated over the decision. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, said that while states such as New York have tried to impose “burdensome laws and regulations”, the court has recognised and strengthened the second amendment.
“Today’s ruling rightfully ensures the right of all law-abiding Americans to defend themselves without unnecessary government interference,” he said.
Gun control activists who have been pushing Biden and Congress to act shared the sense of frustration. John Feinblatt, president of the campaign group Everytown for Gun Safety, said: “Today’s ruling is out of step with the bipartisan majority in Congress that is on the verge of passing significant gun safety legislation, and out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans who support gun safety measures.
“Let’s be clear: the supreme court got this decision wrong, choosing to put our communities in even greater danger with gun violence on the rise across the country.”
And Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of Democracy Policy for Indivisible, summed up the frustration felt by many by using some unpresidential language: “This is madness. Just weeks after 19 children and two teachers were murdered by a military-grade weapon at school in Uvalde, just weeks after 10 people in Buffalo were mown down while grocery shopping, targeted because they lived in a majority-Black community after months and years of countless mass shootings and death at churches, concerts, and other communal spaces we hold dear, the conservative extremist majority on the supreme court have just told states that actually want to do something about it, who actually want to protect their citizens from being annihilated while going about their daily business, to go fuck themselves. “