Its six conservative judges struck down a New York state law that for more than a century had severely limited gun licenses.
This decision comes as the United States is still reeling from a series of deadly shootings, one of which, on May 24, killed 21 people in a Texas elementary school, pushing Republican senators hitherto hostile to any regulation on arms to support modest reforms.
The US Senate on Thursday night passed a bill backed by elected officials from both major parties that is supposed to combat this wave of gun violence, with restrictions on access to firearms and billions of dollars to fund psychological care and safety in schools.
The project, adopted by 65 votes – including fifteen Republicans – against 33 in the upper house and which has every chance of being validated in the House of Representatives on Friday, remains far below the measures demanded by Democratic President Joe Biden, but he is still a first in decades and a step forward for proponents of limiting personal firearms.
“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,” said Chuck Schumer. Senate Majority Leader.
His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell believed that this law would make the United States more secure “without making our country less free”.
The House of Representatives is expected to approve this text on Friday, before a two-week parliamentary recess.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, Mr Biden said he was “deeply disappointed”, regretting a judgment “contrary to common sense” which “should be of concern to all of us”. New York State Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul denounced a decision “shameful in full national consciousness on violence by weapons”.
Conversely celebrating a “tremendous victory”, the powerful arms lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), hailed a “turning point for the righteous men and women of America and the result of decades of struggle”.
The ruling concerns a New York law that has since 1913 limited the issuance of concealed-carry permits to people who have reason to believe they might have to defend themselves, for example because of their occupation or threats against them. .
It had been challenged in court by two gun owners, who had been denied permits, and by an affiliate of the NRA, which campaigns for a literal reading of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Ratified in 1791, it states that “a well-organized militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed”.
In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled that this amendment protected the right to use weapons as part of a law enforcement force, such as the military or police, but was not an individual right to self-defense.
She changed her position in a historic judgment in 2008, establishing for the first time an individual right to possess a weapon in her home for self-defense.
However, it had left it to cities and states to regulate wearing outside the home, so the rules vary widely from place to place.
Thursday’s judgment puts an end to this latitude by setting in stone the right to carry “a handgun outside one’s home”.
“Nothing in the Second Amendment discriminates between the home or public places with respect to the carrying of weapons,” conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote on behalf of the majority.
“Reasonable and well-defined restrictions” remain possible, especially in “sensitive places” such as legislatures or courts, but it will be up to the courts to assess them taking into account American “history and traditions”, writes- he.
The three progressive judges of the Court dissociated themselves from this judgment which, according to them, “seriously limits the efforts of the States to try to limit violence by firearms”.
The Court acts “without considering the potentially fatal consequences of its decision”, regretted on their behalf the magistrate Stephen Breyer, recalling that “in 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms”.
Initially, the decision should bring down laws similar to that of New York in five other states, including some very populated like California or New Jersey, and the capital Washington.
Nearly 400 million guns were in circulation among the civilian population in the United States in 2017, or 120 guns for every 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.