In its first major Second Amendment case in over a decade, the Supreme Court clarified that the right to carry a handgun for purposes of self-defense applies beyond the home. This is good news for women in New York and everywhere in America who will now be free to carry a weapon outside the home for purposes of self defense.
In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment allows law-abiding citizens to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense. The Court looked to the text of that Amendment—the right to “bear” arms—which naturally encompasses public carry. Moreover, the Second Amendment guarantees an “individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” and confrontation can surely take place outside the home. Further, the right to self-defense at the Founding could hardly have been limited to the home where the frontier presented all sorts of harrowing reasons one needed to carry a weapon for self-defense.
In a 6-3 opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that the New York law at issue was unconstitutional because it required New Yorkers to demonstrate a special need for a weapon for self defense. Under New York’s restrictive licensing regime, an applicant for a public carry permit may satisfy the “proper cause” requirement only if she can “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” At oral argument, New York admitted that someone who worked late at night and needed to walk from the subway through a high-crime neighborhood to get home would not be able to demonstrate the specific threat needed to get a license to carry a weapon in New York. Thus, the Supreme Court held that New York’s requirement of a special need for self-defense for a public carry license violates the Constitution.
The Bruen decision is a win for women who may feel a special need to protect themselves with a weapon. As the Independent Women’s Law Center argued in its amicus curiae brief, a brief cited twice by Justice Alito in his concurrence, women remain more vulnerable than men to violent crime—both crime committed by strangers and crime committed by people they know. Because of their relative size, women are often at a self-defense disadvantage. Carrying a gun “is one of the few ways a woman can level the field if someone large and adrenaline-charged is determined to do her lethal harm.” Police and self-defense experts agree that a firearm can “level[ ] the field in a life-threatening confrontation.”
IWLC’s brief went on to explain why the Second Amendment right to bear arms outside the home is especially important to women. The brief argued that women are often at a greater risk of harm outside of their homes than inside their homes. Indeed, as Judge Posner has noted, “a Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of the Park Tower.” As IWLC’s brief explained, more than 50% of rapes occur outside of the home—in parking garages, parks and the like. And a woman who is being stalked or has obtained a protective order from a man in her life is more vulnerable to being attacked while walking to or from her home than when inside.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, approximately 2,772,070 violent incidents were perpetrated against women in 2019. The FBI’s Crime in the United States Report concludes that 2,991 women were murdered in 2019 (over 20% of the total). And during their lifetime, about one in four women will “experience[ ] contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.” Violence against women is especially harrowing when it is committed by someone close to the victim. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) revealed that well over one-third of women nationwide (36.4%) had experienced domestic violence, physical violence, or stalking.
Further, women are subject to violence that civil protection orders do not always address. As Justice Alito explained in Caetano v. Massachusetts, restraining orders may “prove[ ] futile.” There are approximately 1.2 million civil protection orders issued annually. But civil protective orders are not foolproof. Academic studies have questioned the effectiveness of such orders. A 2002 study, for instance, found that the violation rate of civil protective orders was an astounding 40%. That means that two out of five women are approached by those whom they are supposed to be protected from.
Perhaps as a result of the many violent crimes committed against women, women increasingly are choosing to protect themselves and their families through gun ownership. According to a 2017 Pew Research survey, 22% of women own a firearm themselves. And the number of women purchasing firearms continues to rise. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) estimates, based on retailer surveys, that 40% of first-time gun buyers in 2020 were women.
Women purchase guns primarily for protection. The 2020 survey revealed that personal protection was the primary reason gun owners of both genders were buying firearms. And according to the Pew Research Center, while a large proportion of both men and women (roughly two-thirds) view protection as a major reason to own a firearm—an even higher number of women (71%) did so.
IWLC’s brief also shared the stories of real women who had chosen to use firearms for self-defense.
- Danielle King, a doctoral student and health policy fellow for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, purchased a firearm this year for protection. Danielle and her husband were the victims of a home invasion. Her husband held the bedroom door shut as the intruder slammed against it, shattering the frame. Danielle called the police. It took officers more than 45 minutes to respond. And when they arrived, they accused Danielle and her husband of being the intruders. Danielle explains: “I had come to believe that I had two choices: take steps to protect myself, or become a victim. I decided I needed to be armed.” With the purchase of her revolver three days later, she says “we are protected.”
- Geneva Solomon is the co-owner of Redstone Firearms, a gun store in Southern California that is dedicated to making gun ownership accessible to first-time gun owners. Thirteen years ago, Solomon, who is Black, ended an abusive relationship and purchased a gun. “I have to be able to protect my daughter at whatever expense,” she explained.
- Robyn Sandoval is the executive director of A Girl and A Gun. Formerly anti-gun, Sandoval thinks “it’s important that [she] tell members of Congress that the moms that make demands to take my rights don’t speak for moms like me.” “There’s a lot of moms like me,” she continued, “who are safe, law-abiding proficient firearms advocates. We want the ability to protect our families.”
- Jessica in California explains owning a firearm: “I was a victim of a home invasion when I was 16 years old, I had a gun pointed at my head. Ever since that happened, I promised myself that I would not be a victim again. I have two small children and my goal is to know how to use a pistol, rifle, and shotgun proficiently in case I experience the same scenario.”
- Theresa in Nevada says of owning a firearm, “I’ve never felt the need to own a gun or want one. However, with the extreme levels of crime, every individual should learn to protect themselves. With our political leaders allowing the police to be torn apart, this made me feel the need to step up and take measures for my protection.”
- Jan in Michigan says, “As a child my family lived in inner-city Detroit in the heart of the 1967 riots. We lived as hostages night after night under a 3:00 PM curfew everyday. Detroit has never recovered. More recently, the rioters came down my street [in] Kalamazoo, Michigan. I decided that I have to defend myself and not allow myself to be a sitting duck.”
- Rita in Texas says, “I was a Hospice nurse [and] worked in some bad areas so thought I would feel safer with some protection, but never learned how to use a gun. Now I live in an area that isn’t really safe and I wanted to learn how to use it and maybe be able to get my concealed carry license.”
These women’s stories are not merely anecdotal. A report from the CDC concludes that “[s]elf-defense can be an important crime deterrent.” The report, commissioned by former President Barack Obama, noted that “almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year.”
Justice Alito’s concurrence in Bruen cites IWLC’s amicus brief to note that, according to the CDC, defensive gun use is effective in preventing injury: “[s]tudies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”
Women can rationally believe that carrying a weapon for purposes of self defense is necessary to protect themselves and their families. As the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen makes clear, the Second Amendment guarantees them that right.