Judge OKs NY weapons ban in Times Square and other 'sensitive' places — but calls the underlying law 'doomed'

Pedestrians in Times Square NY walking around and shopping.
Ozgur Donmaz/Getty
  • A judge let New York ban guns in 'sensitive' locations, but called the underlying law legally 'doomed.'

  • Legally-owed guns are, for now, prohibited in places like Times Square. Businesses can also ban guns.

  • Gun lobbies are fighting the NY law, enacted after a June Supreme Court decision expanded gun rights.

A federal judge has given the green light — for now — to tough new gun restrictions that New York lawmakers passed in response to this summer's landmark Supreme Court ruling expanding the right to bear arms in public.

But Wednesday night's 78-page decision harshly questions the constitutionality of New York's Concealed Carry Improvement Act, even calling it legally "doomed," while still allowing it to take effect, as planned, on Thursday.

The law bans guns in "sensitive" places like Times Square, parks, theaters, and houses of worship, and re-tightens concealed carry permit restrictions that had been loosened by the Supreme Court in June.

Businesses throughout the state can also choose to prohibit guns on their premises.

It's a decisive, though temporary, win for the CCIA, which will now remain in place while gun lobbies continue the legal fight to revoke it.

"As gun violence continues to impact communities across the country, today's decision is a victory in our efforts to protect New Yorkers," NY Attorney General Letitia James wrote, praising the decision on Wednesday night.

"Responsible gun control measures save lives and any attempts by the gun lobby to tear down New York's sensible gun control laws will be met with fierce defense of the law," wrote James, whose office is defending the state against the gun lobbies' lawsuit.

But US District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby sounded an ominous warning for the future of the law, New York's hastily-passed response to the Supreme Court's decision in June.

"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," Suddaby warned.

The CCIA was passed in June to quickly counter the Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down New York's strict gun permitting process and loosened concealed-carry rights nationwide.

For a century, New York had required those seeking concealed-carry permits to prove that being armed in public was necessary. But in the Bruen case, the Supreme Court found any such limits on the right to "bear arms" unconstitutional.

New York lawmakers responded immediately. The Concealed Carry Improvement Act was enacted in just eight days.

Two Virginia-based national gun lobbies, the Gun Owners Foundation and the Gun Owners of America, also responded fast, filing suit on behalf of their New York members and arguing that the CCIA is an illegal end-run around the Supreme Court.

In turning down the gun groups' request for an immediate, preliminary halting of the law, Suddaby on Wednesday found legal flaws on both the plaintiff and the defendant side of the lawsuit.

Most significantly, and in a blow to the law's future, the judge singled out a brief section of the CCIA, its so-called "good moral character" clause.

"No license shall be issued or renewed except for an applicant ... of good moral character," the clause reads. Such an applicant will use the weapon "only in a manner that does not endanger oneself or others," it reads.

The vague requirement of "good moral character" is fatally similar to the New York carry-permit application language the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in June, Suddaby wrote.

And the insistence that a gun could only be used "in a manner that does not endanger oneself or others" ignores what guns are all about, the judge wrote.

"The Court has difficulty imagining how any law-abiding, responsible citizen would ever 'use' a concealed handgun to defend himself or herself in public against another person in a manner that does not 'endanger' that other person," the judge wrote.

"The very act of using a firearm in self-defense against another person necessarily involves threatening, if not actually causing, danger to that other person," the judge added.

The law "literally does not permit one to use a firearm in self-defense" and is therefore "conditioned on a logical impossibility," he said, and "doomed" to be struck down.

Suddaby found that the gun groups also misfired, by suing only a single defendant, New York's superintendent of State Police Kevin P. Bruen, the same defendant as in the Supreme Court case.

As a state official, Bruen is only responsible for some of the CCIA restrictions the gun lobby is challenging, the judge noted, namely a statewide 18-hour firearm training requirement for carry permits and the ban on guns in sensitive locations. Bruen has no jurisdiction over other local restrictions allowed under the law.

Suddaby found still more technical flaws, including that the gun lobby "[has] not sufficiently established a risk of future harm" to win an immediate halt to the New York law.

In fact, the gun lobby's New York branch "has experienced an increase of approximately $6,000 in donations since the CCIA was passed," the judge wrote.

The judge also noted that the lawsuit's only individual plaintiff, a Schenectady County gun owner named Ivan Antonyuk, has voluntarily opted himself out of any future harm from the law.

Antonyuk told the judge during an August court hearing that simply as a courtesy, he has no intention to carry a gun in a sensitive location or anywhere else where it wasn't welcome, the judge said.

Both gun lobby groups promised to continue to fight the New York law.

"Despite the judge's dismissal of the complaint, his opinion contains a silver lining for New Yorkers and the nation, as the robust precedent laid out by the Supreme Court in June is clearly making headway," said Erich Pratt, senior vice president for Gun Owners of America.

Gun Owners Foundation spokesman Sam Parades thanked the judge, adding, "We look forward to continue our efforts to fully dismantle this law and sending a second clear message to Albay: 'shall not be infringed.'"

James, in her statement Wednesday night, said her office would continue to fight for sensible gun control and the state's gun laws.


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