A brief filed by a group of prominent conservative lawyers and former government officials in Republican administrations ... argued that “the original understanding of the Second Amendment was that there is not an absolute, unfettered right to carry loaded guns in public.”
J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge revered by conservatives, was among the lawyers who filed the brief. He said the issue was straightforward.
“When you look at the history and tradition, spanning six or seven centuries, you indisputably find that public carry of guns has been variously prohibited and regulated throughout the entire time,” he said in an interview. “New York’s statute, and the statutes in other states that are its equivalent, fit very comfortably within the history and tradition of firearm regulation.”
Looking to history is a central feature of originalism, the method of interpreting the Constitution that seeks to determine its original public meaning.
Other lawyers who signed the brief included Peter D. Keisler, a former acting attorney general in the George W. Bush administration; John B. Bellinger III, a top State Department and White House lawyer under Mr. Bush; and Carter Phillips, a leading Supreme Court lawyer who served in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration [and] many historians agreed with Mr. Luttig and his colleagues.
“The weight of the historical evidence is pretty clearly on the side that there’s always been some kind of regulation of carrying arms in public,” said Saul Cornell, a historian at Fordham University who filed a brief supporting New York. “One of the longest continuous traditions in Anglo-American law are limits on the public carry of arms in populous areas.”
The New York law requires that people seeking a license to carry a handgun outside their homes show a “proper cause.” Two men who were denied the licenses they sought sued, along with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, saying that “the state makes it virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to obtain a license.”
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have similar laws, according to briefs filed in the case.