New York seeks to test Supreme Court on gun control

A pivotal Supreme Court decision striking down New York’s concealed carry law last summer is set to be tested by a new law crafted by Democrats determined to curtail gun violence in their state.

The new law in part bans firearms in 20 “sensitive places” that include some of New York City’s most famed spots, such as Times Square, Yankee Stadium and the subway system.

Liberals angered by the decision from the new conservative majority on the court are ready for a battle. Democrats in the state designed the law to comply with New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the justices’ biggest expansion of Second Amendment protections in more than a decade.

That June decision struck down New York’s requirement for concealed carry permit applicants to show proper cause.

The new law, which is being challenged by gun rights advocates, also requires permit applicants to demonstrate “good moral character” and provide social media accounts and family contact information.

New York hopes the measures will prevail as lawsuits zig-zag through the courts.

Six members of the Gun Owners of America quickly sued over portions of the law, but their request for an immediate pause was denied this month by the Supreme Court. The court also rejected another challenge from a group of gun dealers.

No justice publicly dissented from either order, suggesting a majority was not eager to immediately go further than last summer’s landmark ruling. But in a statement accompanying one of the orders, Justice Samuel Alito cautioned that the law poses “novel and serious questions” and instructed the challengers to “not be deterred.”

Fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joined the Alito statement, which indicated the refusal to step in was “respect for the Second Circuit’s procedures in managing its own docket, rather than expressing any view on the merits of the case.”

Parties on both sides are downplaying that statement, saying it reflects more of a reluctance on the court’s part to issue a far-reaching precedent before the case goes through lower courts.

The cases are now proceeding more fully in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which will hear arguments in March in tandem with two other lawsuits challenging a broader set of New York gun provisions.

It leaves an uncertain path ahead for gun control as the nation reels from a new series of mass shootings in the first few weeks of 2023.

Last summer’s 6-3 decision upended most courts’ two-part test that weighed the constitutionality of gun laws and ruled that firearm regulations must be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition.

The justices noted that states could still prohibit firearms in “sensitive places”; New York’s new law in part tests how widely the term can stretch.

It defines sensitive places to include 20 categories, like Times Square, churches, parks and places where alcohol is served.

A federal district judge paused enforcement for seven locations in November, but an appeals court weeks later reversed that decision.

University of Wyoming law professor George Mocsary said some of New York’s sensitive places — like polling places — seem permissible based on court precedent while others remain “in serious trouble because they’re really egregious.”

“The goal of the law isn’t public safety, it’s to make this list of sensitive places that’s so vast that you can’t go to any destination,” said Mocsary. “All you can practically do is leave your home, spend time on the streets and go back home.”

The challenged provisions also include those that ban firearms on private property without the owner’s express consent and a requirement for concealed carry permit applicants to show “good moral character.”

“It depends on how ‘good moral character’ is deployed,” said Mocsary. “The problem with it is it’s vague.”

A spokesman for New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), whose office is defending the law in court, deferred to her previous statement vowing to use “every tool at our disposal.” The governor’s office did not return requests for comment.

Gun control groups and more than a dozen Democratic-led states have filed amicus briefs defending the law, arguing the appeals court should provide more guidance so that gun laws aren’t improperly struck down.

“This case presents an ideal opportunity for this Court to correct these errors by setting out a workable template for how courts in the Second Circuit are to apply Bruen,” one coalition of gun control groups wrote.

In New York, gun rights advocates have also challenged parts of a 10-bill package the state enacted following a mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May, which came barely ahead of the high court’s landmark ruling.

Just to the south, a federal judge is considering requests to temporarily block New Jersey’s sensitive place list. Battles over assault-style rifles, bump stocks and nonviolent felons owning guns are also proceeding in various stages.

“I actually am quite optimistic,” said Douglas Letter, chief legal officer at Brady, one of the groups defending the law. “Maybe I’m being totally foolish.”

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