The US Supreme Court has struck down a New York law restricting gun carrying rights, in its most important judgement on guns in over a decade.
It expands gun rights amid a fierce national debate over the issue.
The decision, which jeopardises similar regulations in states like California and New Jersey, is expected to allow more people to carry guns legally.
About a quarter of Americans live in states that could be affected if their own rules are challenged.
The 6-3 decision by the court held that the New York law requiring residents to prove “proper cause” to carry concealed firearms in public violates the US Constitution.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the six-justice conservative majority on the court, held that Americans have a right to carry “commonly used” firearms in public for personal defence.
The liberal justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.
The decision comes amid deep political divisions over how to address gun violence, which were intensified by recent high-profile shootings – including at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas and a grocery store in Buffalo, New York last month.
Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, the US Senate had announced steps towards new legislation tightening access to firearms.
US President Joe Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” by a ruling that he said “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should trouble us all”.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), on the other hand, celebrated the judgement.
The gun lobby had helped back plaintiffs in the case, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch – two New Yorkers who had applied for a concealed carry permit but were denied them, despite having licences for recreational gun ownership.
More than 390 million guns are owned by civilians in the US. In 2020 alone, more than 45,000 Americans died from firearms-related injuries including homicides and suicides.
Thursday’s decision from the top US court continued a steady pattern of rulings that have expanded gun rights, holding that the right to carry firearms both at home and in public is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
Even in the shadow of mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, the six-justice majority on the Supreme Court stood by a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment first outlined by a narrower court majority in 2008.
The last landmark gun decision issued by the court was in 2010, which affirmed the right to bear arms for states as well as individuals.
As these court precedents pile up, it will be increasingly difficult for future Supreme Court justices to change course and interpret the Constitution as permitting broader gun restrictions.
In his dissent, Justice Breyer noted that gun violence has taken a significant number of lives in the US this year.
“Since the start of this year alone (2022), there have already been 277 reported mass shootings – an average of more than one per day,” he said.
The decision was quickly condemned by New York officials, including Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul.
It is “outrageous that at a moment of national reckoning on gun violence, the Supreme court has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons,” she said.
In the wake of the decision, Eric Adams, the New York City mayor, said he would review other ways to restrict gun access, such as by tightening the application process for buying firearms and looking at bans at certain locations.