NY Gun Control Case – 1st Post-Sandy Hook Law Review

A Federal judge for the Western District of New York issued his ruling on NYSRPA v. Cuomo – a challenge brought against the NYSAFE Act – on New Year's Eve 2013, providing the first big legal review of gun control and safety laws enacted since the Sandy Hook shooting.

In his ruling, Judge William Skretny (nominated to the bench by GHW Bush in 1990) upheld the vast majority of the law, striking down four provisions. Notably, the judge upheld background check provisions, bans on assault style weapons (and weapons with assault rifle features), in-person only ammunition sales, and a 10 round magazine limit.

The four provisions struck down were:

  • • Limiting the number of loaded rounds to 7 (even if the magazine could hold 10). The judge found this additional restriction arbitrary and without any rational purpose.
  • • An unintelligible drafting of one paragraph dealing with large capacity magazines of a certain manufacture date. The main portion of the section remains intact, but a portion of the section was invalidated because the judge ruled there was no functional way to read it.
  • • A misuse of the word "break" instead of "brake" in limiting muzzle brakes. The provision banning muzzle brakes was struck because of the repeated misuse of "break" instead.
  • • An attempt to ban semi-automatic versions of automatic weapons. The judge ruled in this case (sadly, IMHO), that simply specifying "semi-automatic versions of automatic weapons" was too vague for the ordinary citizen, who might not know that a rifle or pistol was based on an automatic version. This is the major loss of the case, IMHO, because our Federal assault rifle ban was riddled with holes based on this or that gun that wasn't explicitly listed, but was functionally equivalent to a banned rifle.

On the other hand, the judge explicitly ruled in favor of the following that might be of interest to Coloradoans:

  • • "Readily adapted or converted." The judge ruled that this terminology had been accepted since the 1994 Federal assault rifle ban and that it had been ruled acceptable in several cases previously.
  • • Shotgun tube magazine limits. Likewise, the judge ruled that despite the variability of shotgun shell lengths, there was a relative standard that could be applied that would make sense in applying these limits.
  • • Large capacity magazine limits. The judge ruled that, even considering the "in standard use" standard of the Second Amendment, that there was an adequate and well-demonstrated public safety need that outweighed the Constitutional right (similar to limits on yelling "fire!" in a theater), and that said safety need met the requirements of Heller.

Of course, this is a regional district court in a different federal circuit, but you can expect that the legal reasoning used in this decision will be given substantial weight in any challenges brought against Colorado's new gun laws.

The full court decision can be read via Google Docs thanks to the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which largely lost its case

8 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. I think this ruling has a lot going for it.

    Politically, this is a judge who grew up in a relatively conservative, less developed section of New York. He is ruling as a member of the judicial district of that relatively conservative, less developed region of the state. And he was appointed by a moderate to conservative (at the time) Republican President, presumably under the assumption that he shared relatively conservative creds with that President.

    Rationally, this case is built on existing case law. There's not much groundbreaking here in terms of legal precedent.

    The magazine limit (the 10-round limit, not the 7-round "don't fill past this mark" limit) is likely to be the most hotly contested, but the judge was apparently highly convinced of the safety requirements presented by the state, and not convinced by the contradicting testimony of the gun advocacy groups who were either plaintiffs or plaintiff's amicus curiae supporters. The disparity of supporting evidence is what ultimately killed the DOMA and Prop 8 supporters' cases in the recent gay rights decisions, and IMHO it is what will keep the magazine restrictions intact through various challenges.

    • BlueCat says:

      Don't hold your breath for anything other than the usual inane responses from the gun rights over any other rights crowd. Another take away? When writing legislation make sure you know what words like break and brake mean. It matters. Spell check will allow any legit word, not just the correct one. If in doubt on something this important, look it up. Jeesh.

      • Yeah – the "and if" strikeout and the "break" strikeout were two really stupid errors that a body as overweight (compared to, say, the CO Legislature) as the New York State Legislature should have been able to catch.

        That said, it's illegal in NY to sell a gun with a threaded barrel, so the separate provision making muzzle brakes illegal is less of an issue than it might be.

  2. mamajama55 says:

    Huh. Our forum gunzos will now have to find another law to claim that the libs are confiscatin' their guns. If you recall, the NY SAFE law provisions were the only examples our resident gun strokers could find to show "violation of their Second Amendment rights".

    I like Judge Skretny's rulings here – there really isn't a lot of difference between a 7 and a 10 magazine limit, and background checks, in person ammo buys, ban on assault rifle featured guns are all common-sense limitations. I also like that he flatly said that he found that the SAFE act "does not violate the Second Amendment". Period.

    • He did say that the 7 round loading restriction (note: this part of the law said you can only load 7 rounds in your otherwise legal 10 round magazine, unless you're at a licensed facility) violated the 2nd Amendment, because the state could provide no rational argument justifying it (i.e. they had no proof that it would be enforceable or effective). But the 10 round magazine restriction was okay.

  3. The most important point I got out of skimming this decision is a citation by the judge that effectively describes the role of the judiciary and the legislature in relationship to cases like this…

    The decision over which laws to enact is a political one, not a legal one. It is up to the legislature to decide what is effective and sufficient. The role of the judiciary in challenges like this is to ensure that the legislature has written laws that are enforceable and do not unduly infringe on other rights.

    The judge in this case has adjudicated that the State has a compelling case for these restrictions, and that said restrictions do not remove or unduly burden the right of the People to own firearms.

  4. BlueCat says:

    It will be interesting to see these kinds of things being appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court and what happens at that point, including whether or not the Supremes even elect to hear them or let decisions to that point stand.

    • I predict the SCOTUS will take this issue on eventually, though maybe not this one.

      Both sides have items they'd like to appeal about this case. The State would, I'm sure, love to appeal the "based on automatic" ruling, while the gun groups would like to appeal pretty much all of the rest of the ruling. The 2nd Circuit will probably agree to hear the case – though I don't predict much love for the gun groups on that front, as the judge used 2nd Circuit precedent for most of his foundation.

      The Supreme Court will likely not hear one of these cases until it sees a conflict in rulings; it's already turned down challenges to magazine limits post-Heller, so don't expect a hearing based on that alone.

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