A federal judge allowed New York’s new gun control laws to take effect as scheduled Thursday, but his sharply worded decision made clear he believes they plainly violate the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby of Syracuse issued a 78-page ruling late Wednesday that could herald an ominous future for the state’s newly enacted laws, including a measure that bans guns in dozens of “sensitive locations” like restaurants, bars, health care facilities, and the Times Square area.
Suddaby tossed the lawsuit from the gun rights organization Gun Owners of America on technical grounds, finding the plaintiffs — which included a Ukrainian immigrant living in Schenectady County — didn’t have legal standing to sue. He also denied their request for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the gun control laws from taking effect.
But the judge’s ruling also made clear he didn’t think the state’s new law — known as the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, or CCIA — would ultimately pass legal muster, saying key parts of the measure are unconstitutional and go far beyond the June Supreme Court ruling that made it easier to legally obtain a permit to carry a firearm in public.
“While pursuing the laudable goal of public safety, and in an attempt to curb ever-increasing mass shootings, the New York state Legislature has generated an unconstitutional statute in the CCIA,” Suddaby wrote.
The new gun control measures were in direct response to the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer, which invalidated a century-old New York law that required gun owners to show “proper cause” — basically a special need for self-defense, or something similar — for a permit that allows them to carry in public.
The law had the effect of making most people eligible to apply for and receive a concealed carry permit. But eight days after the ruling, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Democrats who control the state Legislature approved a series of new gun control measures, including the gun ban in so-called sensitive locations.
The measures also included more rigorous requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit, forcing new applicants to turn over three years of their social media accounts, sit for an in-person interview, and take 18 total hours of training. It also added a measure saying gun permits could only be issued to people of “good moral character.”
Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based group, challenged those provisions, arguing that they were arduous and had the effect of banning guns in most public places — which they claimed violated the Second Amendment.
While Suddaby rejected the group’s lawsuit on technical grounds, he ultimately agreed with the group’s main substantive challenges.
The list of “sensitive places” where guns are banned is far too extensive, he wrote. It went well beyond the short list of locations where the Supreme Court signaled gun-free zones would be permitted, such as churches and schools.
“The CCIA’s list of ‘sensitive locations’ is indeed almost limitless,” Suddaby wrote.
The [new law's] list of ‘sensitive locations’ is indeed almost limitless
The judge also took issue with the “good moral character” provision of the state law, which says permits should only be issued to people who can prove they have the “temperament and judgment necessary … to use (a gun) only in a manner that does not endanger oneself or others.”
Suddaby argued the measure was too subjective, leaving open the possibility for a variety of interpretations, and therefore unconstitutional — similar to the reasoning the Supreme Court gave for tossing New York’s previous concealed carry law. He also took lawmakers to task for failing to add a qualifier that makes clear that permit holders can use their guns for self-defense.
All in all, Suddaby knocked the new gun control laws as less of a “measured response” to the Supreme Court ruling and more of a “wish list of exercise-inhibiting restrictions glued together by a severability clause in case some of the more fanciful restrictions were struck down.”
Suddaby, the chief judge of New York’s Northern District that stretches from Albany toward Syracuse and up to the Canadian border, was appointed in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush.
New York’s top Democrats sought to accentuate the positives in Suddaby’s ruling, noting that he allowed the laws to take effect.
“It is a just and right decision, and our smart, sensible gun laws will go into effect as planned … to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement.
Attorney General Letitia James, whose office defended the Hochul administration in the lawsuit, called it “a victory in our efforts to protect New Yorkers,” and went as far as to take a victory lap over the gun lobby on Twitter.
“The gun lobby is trying to destroy New York’s common-sense gun law,” she tweeted. “We beat them in court. Let’s go.”
But at least one other lawsuit — filed by former congressional candidate Carl Paladino of Buffalo — remains pending. And, following Suddaby’s ruling, more are likely on the way — including the possibility of a suit from the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the NRA affiliate that was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case earlier this year.
“This illegal law will go down,” the state Republican Party tweeted late Wednesday.