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Supreme Court and Congress clash over US gun laws

After a series of mass killings, including the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at the school in Uvalde, Texas, Joe Biden urged parliamentarians in early June to limit access to firearms. Despite the reluctance of elected Republicans to any new regulation, the tenant of the White House was finally heard: the Senate adopted on Thursday June 24 a bill supported by elected officials from the two main parties supposed to fight against the wave of armed violence which prevails in the United States. It must be validated this Friday, June 24 in the House of Representatives where the Democrats are in the majority.

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A few hours before the vote, the Supreme Court had just invalidated a law of the State of New York (Democrat) which, for more than a century, had severely limited the licenses to carry weapons. A decision which, for the first time, set in stone the right to wear “a handgun outside his home”. New York law has since 1913 restricted the issuance of concealed-carry permits to people who have reason to believe they may have to defend themselves, for example because of their occupation or threats against them. The Supreme Court’s ruling is in total contradiction with legislative advances and risks complicating efforts to combat an already alarming violence.

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A judgment “contrary to common sense”

This decision, taken by a majority of six judges out of nine, all conservatives, allows only a few exceptions, in particular in the “sensitive places” such as legislatures or courts, but it will be up to the courts to assess them taking into account “History and Traditions” Americans, writes conservative judge Clarence Thomas on behalf of the majority. A stop considered a “huge victory” by the powerful arms lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which hailed a “turning point for the righteous men and women of America and the result of decades of struggle”.

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For their part, the three progressive judges of the Court dissociated themselves from this judgment which, according to them, “severely limits the efforts of states to try to limit gun violence”. The Court acts “without considering the potentially deadly consequences of his decision”regretted on their behalf the magistrate Stephen Breyer, recalling that“in 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms”. Joe Biden said to himself “deeply disappointed”regretting a stop “contrary to common sense” who “should all be worried”. New York State Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul denounced a decision “shameful in full national awareness of gun violence”.

A symbolic but insufficient law

It was in the Senate that anti-gun activists were able to savor a victory. The bill, which introduces restrictions on access to firearms and billions of dollars to fund mental health and safety in schools, passed by 65 votes to 33 in the upper house. Even if this law remains far below the measures demanded by Joe Biden, it nevertheless constitutes a first for decades and a step forward for supporters of the limitation of individual firearms.

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“Tonight, the United States Senate did something many thought impossible just a few weeks ago: We passed the first landmark gun safety law in 30 years”, commented Chuck Schumer, majority leader in the Senate. His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell believed that this law would make the United States safer “without our country being less free”.

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Recall that nearly 400 million weapons were in circulation among the civilian population in the United States in 2017, or 120 weapons for 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey project. More than 20,000 gun homicides were recorded in 2021 on the Gun Violence Archive site.

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