This definition, Thomas said, is too broad.
"Put simply, there is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a "sensitive place" simply because it is crowded and protected generally by the New York City Police Department," he wrote.
The conservative justice also looked at the plain language of the Second Amendment, which protects the right "to keep and bear arms." He described keeping and bearing as two separate things, noting that Heller defines "bear" as "to wear, bear, or carry." This implies public carrying, Thomas said, because someone would not generally wear their gun in a holster at home, but would "keep" it somewhere.
The 63-page opinion also explored historical restrictions on carrying handguns that New York relied on. Thomas explained why they do not justify a current restriction, noting how past regulations from centuries ago focused on "dangerous and unusual weapons," while handguns today are relatively commonplace. While the handgun may have been considering dangerous and unusual during colonial times, the opinion said, in modern times it is "the quintessential self-defense weapon."
The Court's opinion also stated that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms should not be held to a lower standard than other constitutional rights.
"We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense," Thomas wrote.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote an impassioned dissenting opinion in which he referenced present-day fervor over gun violence, as well as recent events. Joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, Breyer cited statistics including 45,222 Americans killed by firearms in the U.S. in 2020, the number of mass shootings that have already taken place in 2022, and how gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.
"Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds," Breyer wrote. "The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so."
Justice Samuel Alito, in a concurring opinion, took issue with Breyer's references to recent shootings.
"Does the dissent think that laws like New York’s prevent or deter such atrocities? Will a person bent on carrying out a mass shooting be stopped if he knows that it is illegal to carry a handgun outside the home?" Alito asked. "And how does the dissent account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo? The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator."
Breyer recognized legitimate purposes for guns, such as sport, self-defense, or types of employment like security guards, but he said it is the responsibility of elected officials to balance "these lawful uses against the dangers of firearms" when crafting legislation.
"That consideration counsels modesty and restraint on the part of judges when they interpret and apply the Second Amendment," he said.