Just weeks after an 18-year-old white supremacist killed 10 people and injured several more at a Buffalo supermarket, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday gutted a New York gun-control law that imposed limits on obtaining a concealed handgun license. And family members of the victims at the Tops Friendly Supermarket massacre are, as one put it, “mad as hell.”
“It’s a slap in the face. It’s a kick in the behind,” Garnell Whitfield, who lost his 86-year-old mother Ruth to the May shooting, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “It’s insulting, it’s disappointing, and honestly, it’s just hurtful. But at the end of the day, it’s also very American.”
Prosecutors say racist teen Payton Gendron bought into a conspiracy theory about white people supposedly being endangered and proceeded to target Black shoppers for meticulous slaughter, ultimately shooting 13 people. He now faces several murder charges, 26 counts of hate crimes, and firearms offenses after allegedly explaining in a handwritten note to his parents he “had to commit this attack” because he cared “for the future of the white race.”
The Department of Justice has said he will face the death penalty if convicted.
But for Whitfield, one of the most disturbing aspects of the Tops massacre was the fact that Gendron obtained firearms legally. And while the law gutted by the high court on Thursday did not directly pertain to how the teenager who slipped under the radar of too many authorities got his guns, it is now even easier for New Yorkers to carry a weapon—and likely that even looser gun laws will proliferate across the nation.
“I am dealing with the death of my mother,” Whitfield, 65, said. “And now I have to worry about whether someone walking down the street next to me is carrying a weapon.”
“It’s not safe. We’re not safe. Minor disputes can now turn into murderous events. Everyone is on edge,” he added.
In a 6-3 decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to carry a gun outside the home. Therefore, the court shot down New York’s “proper-cause” requirement to obtain a concealed-carry license, ruling it “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”
“The police cannot disarm every person who acquires a gun for use in criminal activity; nor can they provide bodyguard protection for the State’s nearly 20 million residents or the 8.8 million people who live in New York City,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a concurring opinion. “Some of these people live in high-crime neighborhoods. Some must traverse dark and dangerous streets in order to reach their homes after work or other evening activities. Some are members of groups whose members feel especially vulnerable. And some of these people reasonably believe that unless they can brandish or, if necessary, use a handgun in the case of attack, they may be murdered, raped, or suffer some other serious injury.”
In other words, the high court’s conservatives suggested they were looking out for the marginalized. But the families of Buffalo victims strongly disagree.
Zeneta Everhart, the mother of one of three people who survived being shot at Tops Friendly Markets, said the idea of putting more guns in people’s hands seems “ridiculous and backwards” considering that “mass shootings are happening all the time.” According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks gun violence through police reports, over 60 mass shootings have occurred in the last month.
Among them: A mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers. The shooter, Salvador Ramos, had legally purchased two assault rifles and ammo around the time of his 18th birthday.
“We’re turning into the wild, wild West,” Everhart said. “It’s disheartening. People’s lives are at risk. It’s ridiculous, I don’t have the words.”
“How many more mass shootings do we need before there are some changes in this country?” she added. “I don’t understand it. It’s irresponsible of our country. It is irresponsible of our lawmakers. I should feel safe in this country.”
Everhart added that her son Zaire Goodman, who worked at Tops and was assisting a customer with her cart when shot at close range, is still dealing with the emotional and physical injuries of the traumatic experience.
This latest ruling is “not making us feel any safer,” she said.
“He is doing really well. It’s going to take some time and he will have to go through a few procedures, but his injuries are a constant reminder of what could happen,” the mother added. “And while we are not going to stop living our lives, this new ruling does add a small level of fear.”
For his part, even if he was outraged, Whitfield conceded that he was “not surprised” by Thursday's decision. Still, he couldn’t help but feel “very disappointed and hurt” that Thomas, the lone Black justice on the court, wrote the decision on the future of New York’s gun control after an attack on the Black community in the state.
“Knowing it was Clarence Thomas that authored this opinion, it’s horrific. We’re now learning that there are no ethics rules in the Supreme Court,” Whitfield added.
“Just the fact that he identifies as a Black man is insulting and wrong.”