“Signaling a shift that will reverberate nationwide, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 to strike down New York’s gun law, likely limiting the ability of state and local governments to restrict guns outside the home.” – New York Times, 6/23/22
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI
TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, we recognized that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect the right of law-abiding Americans to carry concealed handguns for protection outside the home. We now hold that those amendments protect an individual’s right to install hidden machine guns behind their automobile’s headlamps for the purposes of self-defense and feeling like a cool British super spy.
The parties dispute whether California’s licensing regime regarding hidden machine guns respects the constitutional right of self-defense and to feel really cool because of the firepower hidden in, say, your Aston Martin DB5. In seventeen states, any citizen may install hidden machine guns in the front headlights of their cars, while another ten states, like Indiana, only allow such simple modifications to a citizen’s automobile if the owners show some special need, such as being hunted by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Because the State of Indiana issues hidden-machine-gun licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.
Indiana has regulated the installation of hidden machine guns in automobiles since 1966, when it was made a misdemeanor to “install, concealed under the headlamps of an automobile, any pistol or automatic firearm without a written license issued by a police magistrate.” This law was passed after the release of the film Goldfinger, in whose wake dozens of citizens were involved in accidents involving hidden machine guns that they had installed in their automobiles.
A hidden-machine-gun applicant must convince a licensing officer that “he is of good moral character, no good cause exists for the denial of the license, and that the applicant is currently or is in training as a superspy to preserve world peace.” Only five licenses were granted by Indiana in 2021 out of seven thousand applications.
No Indiana statute defines “good cause,” but Indiana courts have held that an applicant shows good cause if he can “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” In re Bond, 75 App. Div. 4d 793, 428 In. S. 4d 256, 257 (1980). Indianapolis City Police Department requires “‘extraordinary personal danger, documented by proof of recurrent threats to life or safety, from a counter-intelligence agency or criminal and terrorist organization dedicated to the overthrow of Western democracy.”
Petitioners in this case represent a group of hidden-machine-gun enthusiasts who believe that the strict requirements of Indiana violate the United States Constitution.
In Bruen, we articulated a test that demanded that “the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.” Bruen, 597 U. S. 600 (2022).
To guide us in that analysis, we must turn to the prohibitions set forward by the states at the time of the adoption of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Although Respondents for Indiana have put forward various regulations regarding the manufacture of horse-drawn wagons from the late eighteenth century, we do not find their analysis persuasive. Respondents were unable to cite a single law that banned the installation of hidden muskets behind lanterns on horse-drawn carriages in that period. Moreover, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, it had been incredibly common for passengers to carry firearms on guarded wagons as part of the just-finished Civil War. It is clear from the legislative history that no statute banned the concealment of muskets, or required that any permit be required for the installation of them into the horse-drawn wagons of the time.
Respondents cite various laws passed in the 1960s, restricting personal jet-packs, guided missile systems, and hidden explosives in watches. But as we said in Bruen, “not all history is created equal.” Bruen, at 603. Although the Indiana legislature in 1966 may have thought that a licensing requirement was necessary for various tools of the super-spy trade, the question before the court is what the legislatures of the time would have thought when the earlier amendments had been adopted. It is not the fault of law-abiding Americans who wish to equip their cars with various manners of weapons to defend themselves from the agents of S.M.E.R.S.H. that S.M.E.R.S.H. or machine guns did not exist in 1791. Respondents have pointed out that there is no evidence of S.M.E.R.S.H. existing in the real world, but that is exactly what they would want you to believe.
Respondents also point to the real-world consequences of having unlimited missile-equipped cars, and to the carnage unleashed upon the nation in the mid-sixties during the so-called British invasion. But it is not the purpose of this court to engage in the determination of whether a law makes a state safer. What matters is what we think other people thought centuries ago. In this case, it is clear that the legislatures of the time would have allowed concealed missiles in the vehicles of their time. Since the days of Nathan Hale and John Wilkes Booth, Americans have long yearned to be part of a secret society fighting for freedom. As part of these long-held and historical desires, we have sought to install our automobiles with the most up-to-date types of gadgets and weaponry to allow the fullest expression of our constitutional rights. No one complains when a defendant demands his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in a criminal trial. So, too, should Americans rejoice in the opportunity to freely install the necessary protections to feel like the spy they would like to be.
In the Dissent, Justice Sotomayor recounts the recent concealed-machine-gun attacks in St. Louis and Gary, Indiana, and the recent jet-pack invasion by the Proud Boys in Charleston, South Carolina. Does the Dissent think laws like Indiana’s prevent or deter such atrocities? Will a person bent on carrying out a missile attack be stopped if he knows that it is illegal to install one in his car? And how does the dissent account for the fact that one of the missile attacks near the top of its list took place in Gary? The Indiana law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator. Moreover, neither Respondents nor the Dissent can show that these attacks were not the work of groups like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or Antifa, which only shows that Indiana needs its concealed machine guns now more than ever.
Indiana’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary fears of attacks from S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from exercising their right to keep and bear arms. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.