Amid a pattern of mass shootings across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court is debating the constitutionality of a longtime gun law in New York—and one Fordham professor is trying to help them make their final decision.
Last summer, Saul Cornell, Ph.D., the Paul and Diane Guenther Chair in American History, weighed in on U.S. Supreme Court case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. At the heart of the case is a 1911 law that says New Yorkers who carry a concealed firearm outside their home must demonstrate a special need for self-protection.
Gun-control activists want to keep this law because it will prevent some people from carrying guns and committing violent acts, said Cornell. However, National Rifle Association conservatives want to get rid of this law so more people can carry guns without having to give a reason, he said. The court is now trying to decide whether or not this law violates the Second Amendment.
Cornell, a historian whose work has been widely cited by legal scholars, said that history supports the notion of needing a reason to carry a gun. However, conservative justices who will decide the case are claiming their decision is based on historical precedent, yet willfully ignoring actual historical facts that support the regulation of guns, he said.
“To understand the constitutionality of a law, we need to ask three questions: What does that law mean to Americans today? What does it mean to the courts? And what did it mean at the time that it was written and enacted?” Cornell said in this faculty mini-lecture filmed in March. “In most cases, the answers to those questions do not overlap at all. And in the case of guns, the disjuncture between those questions is, in some ways, wider than almost any other area of American law.”
In the video, Cornell explains his role in the court case, which follows a cascade of shootings across the country: in New York, most recently in a Buffalo supermarket and a New York City subway car, and in Texas, the tragic shooting in Robb Elementary School, where 21 people were killed—19 of them children.
The final decision from the court may arrive this June, said Cornell, who also recently wrote an opinion piece for Slate on the matter.
“Given these horrific events, it is hard to fathom how the U.S. Supreme Court could be contemplating striking down a century-old New York gun regulation,” he wrote in the May 19 Slate piece, “but based on the oral argument in the case, this unthinkable reality seems almost inevitable unless the court comes to its senses … and recognizes the long history of gun regulation and enforcement in America, including limits on public carry.”