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Supreme Court Makes It Harder to Keep Guns Out of Public Spaces

All Justices critically affirm polling places as “sensitive places” in need of protection 

Press Release / Last Updated:

WASHINGTON — Today, the US Supreme Court ruled 6 – 3 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that New York’s 100-year-old law restricting certain individuals from carrying concealed weapons in public places is unconstitutional, effectively weakening gun safety laws around the country.  

The League of Women Voters of the United States, along with the Leagues of Women Voters of New York and Florida, represented by Cooley LLP, filed an amicus brief in support of New York’s law requiring New Yorkers to show proper cause before carrying concealed weapons in public places, including polling places. The Leagues argued that the presence of guns in polling places would intimidate voters from casting their ballots and demonstrated in their brief how the threat of violence has been used to prevent political participation — especially in communities of color. 

In its opinion, the Court noted that a very narrow group of places, including polling places, were “sensitive places,” where states could prohibit gun-carrying, consistent with the history of the Second Amendment. Yet, the Court failed to explain how state legislatures can expand the category of “sensitive places” to protect all places of public congregation that are not isolated from law enforcement.  

“Today, the Court left the door open for states to keep guns out of polling places, but in doing so declined to guarantee protections for voters nationwide,” said Dr. Deborah Ann Turner, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “At a time when gun violence in public places has become far too common, today’s ruling further inhibits states from protecting residents from the threat of gun violence. With such ill-defined protections for polling places, the League of Women Voters is highly concerned about the effect on voters casting their ballots in the months ahead.” 

As Justice Breyer lamented in his dissenting opinion, “The Court affirms...that States may forbid public carriage in ‘sensitive places.’ But what, in 21st-century New York City, may properly be considered a sensitive place? Presumably ‘legislative assemblies, polling places, and courthouses,’ which the Court tells us were among the ‘relatively few’ places ‘where weapons were altogether prohibited’ in the 18th and 19th centuries. On the other hand, the Court also tells us that ‘expanding the category of ‘sensitive places’ simply to all places of public congregation that are not isolated from law enforcement defines th[at] category...far too broadly.’ So where does that leave the many locations in a modern city with no obvious 18th- or 19th-century analogue? What about subways, nightclubs, movie theaters, and sports stadiums? The Court does not say.” 

“Today’s decision undermines New Yorkers’ right to safety in public places,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “Allowing guns in New York public places, where law enforcement is already in place, only inflames rising threats to New York residents in a time of increased high-profile gun violence.” 

“In today’s decision, the Court shies away from the issue at hand — a state’s ability to protect residents from gun violence — and focuses instead on details that undermine the very function of federal courts to evaluate the law,” said Celina Stewart, chief counsel of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “With only the pleadings to consider, the Court employs a harmfully narrow view of the Constitution and eliminates part of a well-established test for evaluating a law in a modern society where gun violence in sacred places is running rampant. Instead of providing guidance to states and protecting the remaining structures of democracy, this opinion blesses the erosion of it.” 

The League of Women Voters of Florida joined the brief in interest of protecting their efforts to allow counties to place additional protective restrictions on voting locations and prevent voter intimidation. 

“Floridians know the devastating effects of gun violence in public places, and today’s Supreme Court decision will threaten the safety of our communities,” said Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “We condemn this decision that will likely make people fear going to places of public congregation: concerts, community events, protests, and even polling places.” 

As today’s decision undermines state and local governments' ability to curb gun violence, our federal leaders must act to codify which guns can be present in the public and craft laws that prohibit firearms in those sensitive places, like polling places. Voters must be assured that when they cast their ballot, they can do so safely without the threat of gun violence. The League will continue fighting to preserve and support legal protections of polling places nationwide. 

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Press Contact: Shannon Augustus | 202-768-9578 | [email protected] 

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