Gun Split Screen: Biden Signs Safety Measures As Justices Nix A Century-Old Law : The NPR Politics Podcast On Saturday, Biden signed legislation designed to prevent people convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun and increase the prevalence of state "red flag" laws.

The new law comes just days after the Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled there is a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense, striking down a long-standing New York law that restricted concealed carry.

This episode: congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, WNYC reporter Jon Campbell, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Gun Split Screen: Biden Signs Safety Measures As Justices Nix A Century-Old Law

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HOLLY: Hi. This is Holly (ph) from Lakewood, Ohio. I'm here at Cedar Point in Sandusky with my family on our first-day-of-summer break. This podcast was recorded at...


12:08 p.m. on Monday, June 27.

HOLLY: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but we'll still be spinning, dropping, screaming and laughing our way through all the rides and roller coasters. OK. Here's the show.


SNELL: Oh, that sounds really fun. Though, I have to admit, I have lost my younger self's appetite for roller coasters (laughter).

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: I could never go spinning, but roller coasters I love.

SNELL: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

SNELL: What is the future of gun rights in America? On Saturday, President Biden signed the largest gun reform package in almost 30 years.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: While this bill doesn't do everything I want, it does include actions I've long called for that are going to save lives.

SNELL: But that was just days after the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned a long-standing New York law in a decision that could have far-reaching impacts on the kinds of gun restrictions states are allowed to pass. Now Jon Campbell of member station WNYC joins us to talk about all of that. Hi, Jon.


SNELL: So I want to start with the New York law. What exactly was the regulation that the court struck down?

CAMPBELL: So this was a 1911 law known as the Sullivan Law. And basically what it said was, sure, you can get a concealed-carry permit, but you have to show proper cause. You can carry your weapon in public, concealed, but you have to have, essentially, a special reason to need to defend yourself. So, you know, maybe you had some sort of death threat. Maybe you're some sort of public figure who's had threats against you. Maybe you - your job calls for it. But you had to show that proper cause. And what happened here is the Supreme Court said, no, that is in violation of the 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law, and kind of the Second Amendment as well because you're injecting subjectivity into the permitting process.

So in New York, most people have permits that allow them to have a handgun in their home or to carry it to a range or maybe use it for hunting. Now the court says you can't do that. You have to be objective. You have to make it available, basically, to whoever wants them, but also kept the fact that you can require a permit for it, but you just can't discriminate in who you give that permit to. And the effect of that is, you're going to see a lot more people with the legal ability to carry a weapon in public in New York, a state that has pretty staunch gun control laws.

SNELL: You know, this is all happening at a moment when there is a wave of mass shootings in the United States, including one in Buffalo, N.Y., last month. You know, there's been a rise in gun violence overall. And I'm wondering what the reaction has been like there in New York.

CAMPBELL: It depends on what part of the state you're in. I mean, New York is a true blue state. There's twice as many Democrats as Republicans. And it is a state that, as a whole, favors gun control. But it's also a state that has very, very blue New York City, but has incredibly red areas upstate in rural areas, where hunting is very popular, so it's celebrated in those areas. And it's really viewed as being - you know, people are looking at this in horror from, say, New York City, where they're wondering, you know, can we - am I going to be seeing guns on the subway system? And that's something that lawmakers and Governor Kathy Hochul are going to tackle this week.

They have some wiggle room from this ruling from Justice Thomas and another opinion from Justice Kavanaugh that allows them to ban guns from, quote-unquote, "sensitive places," such as, say, government buildings, and can they extend that to, say, the full subway system? That's something that they're going to try to figure out. There's a special session of the legislature called for Thursday to try to pass some laws to kind of dull the impact of this. But those will certainly be challenged in court at some point, too. So, I mean, this court battle is essentially not over, but the impact is, it will be easier to legally carry a gun in public in New York State and those other, quote-unquote, "may-carry" states.

SNELL: Domenico, New York is not the only state with these kinds of regulations, and it's also not the only state with these kinds of regional divisions about the, you know, public perception of the court rulings. So I'm wondering, you know, what can you tell us about how public perception has been more broadly now that the court has struck down the law?

MONTANARO: It's kind of fascinating because the Supreme Court with this and, you know, the abortion ruling, for example, on Friday overturning Roe v. Wade - the court is really out of step with public opinion. I mean, you know, when you look at whether people, for example, want high-capacity magazines or assault-style rifles banned in, you know, federally, you see, consistently, majorities saying that they do want those banned and a return to that kind of federal ban. But that is not at all the direction the country is headed. And, yeah, this decision is going to affect half a dozen or so states with similar kinds of laws. But I think that the other piece of this is, what about the states that are also implementing those high-capacity magazine bans to try to...

SNELL: Right.

MONTANARO: ...Sort of take a step that the federal government is not doing or even those red flag laws, which, you know, I think we're going to see a lot more of these kinds of cases work their way through the courts to the Supreme Court and whether the court whittles away or completely does away with some of these laws as well.

SNELL: Yeah, that's a really good point. And, Jon, I kind of wanted to ask you, is there any talk about other things that the state might attempt to do? I mean, I know you mentioned the question about the subway, but what else are people talking about as an option for, you know, if people wanted to pass stronger gun laws in New York?

CAMPBELL: Well, Governor Hochul has mentioned a few things so far. One was that sensitive places issue, which is going to be, you know, hammered out over the next few days here. Another is, they want to implement more training requirements for all handgun permit owners. You know, that's something that they're hoping, that maybe they can make it a little more difficult to get a concealed-carry permit by requiring additional training. And another thing is about businesses and whether businesses would have the right to refuse service, say, to somebody who is carrying a weapon or refuse to let them even in their store.

Governor Hochul has brought up the possibility of making it an opt-in system rather than an opt-out, meaning that guns would be banned in all businesses unless the business owner were to proactively say, yes, you can bring a gun into my store, hang a sign, whatever. And that's something that they're trying to figure out the legality of 'cause they want to pass new laws that do dull the impact of this, but don't run afoul of the Constitution - maybe can pass muster with the court - and so they're not tossed, you know, a couple of years from now. That's what they're weighing right now. It remains to be seen exactly what they'll pass, but those are some things that the governor has tossed out.

SNELL: And I imagine that we'll be watching to see if there are any court challenges to those types of laws. Well, Jon Campbell of WNYC, thank you so much for joining us.

CAMPBELL: Thank you for having me.

SNELL: And we're going to take a quick break. When we get back - what the new federal gun violence legislation does and doesn't do.

And we're back. And what I have to say was a bit of a surprise. Congress managed to pass a bipartisan gun safety measure that President Biden signed into law on Saturday.

MONTANARO: Why don't you walk us through some of the specifics because I think a lot of people would look at what was done and think, well, these bigger things weren't done, like a ban on assault-style weapons or other things like that. But, you know, there are some important measures in it, right?

SNELL: Yeah. I think it's - one of the things that has been interesting to watch here is that a lot of the major, national gun safety groups came out in favor of this bill, saying that they felt it would do a lot of significant good, though they were very quick to say it doesn't do all of the things that they wanted. One of the things that they point to as a very big and significant change in the federal gun background check system is allowing juvenile records that were previously sealed to be included in the background check process for people between the ages of 18 and 21. This allows the system to pick up information about younger gun buyers that they wouldn't have had before, their argument being that, say, somebody's 18, 19, 20 years old, they're unlikely to have an adult criminal record that would be available during a background check. So this makes it more comprehensive. It also gives them more time as the background check is happening to make sure that they've fully vetted people. So there have been cases where somebody hit up against the three-day maximum for a background check and were given a gun, despite the fact that there may have been something in their background that should have prevented them from purchasing one.

Another thing that the gun safety advocates point to is what is called the boyfriend loophole. This changes the law so that people who have been convicted of domestic abuse are no longer allowed to have access to guns if they are in a dating relationship. Previously, somebody would have had to have been married, previously married or shared a child for this ban on gun ownership for people convicted of domestic abuse to kick in. One limitation here is that they now have a five-year sunset. If somebody doesn't re-offend in any way in five years, then they can have their guns back.

Those are two major parts. There's also a lot of funding for mental health and school safety and money for crisis intervention, which can be a red flag law in some states.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And all of those things do have broad, bipartisan majority support when you look at public opinion. So, you know, this is something that people were able, on both sides of the aisle here, to come up with something. It took a little bit of time, and it took, unfortunately, what happened in Uvalde, Texas, and in Buffalo, N.Y.

SNELL: Yeah, you're right. You know, Domenico, you mentioned that public perception is different now. I'm wondering if you can talk about, a little bit, what that looks like in the country right now and how that might be affecting the way Republicans participate in this process?

MONTANARO: Well, when you see a majority of gun owners, for example, and a majority of Republicans be in favor of things like red flag laws, then it makes it a little bit easier for Republicans to feel like they're not up against, you know, a political headwind and that they're able to do something about it. Unfortunately, that is the way politicians, you know, make their calculations on what they should or should not address in Congress because it could cost them their job or not.

SNELL: Right.

MONTANARO: There is this dichotomy, though, of public opinion and this lobbying decline that we're seeing with the National Rifle Association, for example, really going through a lot of problems internally, losing, I would say, a degree of strength while we're also seeing, you know, groups that are in favor of gun safety measures really start to become more organized, better funded. And yet you have this judicial process, you know, with the Supreme Court, you know, essentially set to roll back lots of these gun safety regulations across the country, and that introduces quite a bit of uncertainty and volatility. And we're in for a very different time, I think, over the next 15, 20 years.

SNELL: Yeah. You know, as I was talking to Democrats after the Supreme Court ruling came out, one of the concerns that they kept mentioning was that they felt like the Supreme Court was stepping in and trying to step over legislating and that they had concerns about that long term. Is that something that, you know, you're watching?

MONTANARO: Well, certainly, I don't think the Supreme Court much cares about that, right (laughter)?

SNELL: Yeah.

MONTANARO: You know, I think that the conservatives on the court have a supermajority. You know, Chief Justice John Roberts really is not the sort of mitigating force who has tried to watch politics and public opinion. You have a group now of five conservatives who, you know, have a certain view of things and culture and the rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution. And if they're different from public opinion, they don't so much care.

SNELL: Well, we're going to have to leave it there for today, but we are going to keep watching this. I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

SNELL: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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