NYC Gun Owners Misfire in Legal Challenge


     MANHATTAN (CN) - As dusk settled over the city Monday, a federal judge ruled that New York City won its showdown with handgun owners who challenged a $340 residential licensing fee as unconstitutional.
     A city attorney applauded the ruling, saying the fees were needed to do the exhaustive background checks that keep New York City safe.
     "The city has some of the strongest laws in the nation to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of criminals," Michael A. Cardozo said. "Today's decision rejects a constitutional challenge to home handgun application and renewal fees, upholds our ability to conduct meaningful background checks, and helps preserve policies that have helped make New York the safest big city in the nation."
     Last year seven gun enthusiasts, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and the Second Amendment Foundation sued New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in Federal Court.
     Schneiderman, who was dismissed as a defendant, later rejoined as an intervenor.
     U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl summarized the dueling arguments in a 38-page order dismissing the challenge.
     "The city defendants contend that the $340 fee is permissible under this standard because it is designed to defray, and does not exceed, the costs of administering New York's handgun licensing scheme," Koeltl wrote. "However, the plaintiffs argue that, to be permissible, a fee must not only be designed to defray administrative costs but must also be a 'nominal' amount. According to the plaintiffs, the $340 fee is too high to be nominal."
     The gun enthusiasts' position contradicted longstanding case law, Koeltl wrote, citing several appellate court rulings.
     "While it is possible to conceive of fees that are impermissible because they are so exorbitant as to deter the exercise of the protected activity ... there is no showing that the $340 handgun licensing fee qualifies as such a fee," Koeltl wrote in his 38-page Opinion and Order. "The plaintiffs merely assert that the $340 fee is excessive, which is not sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the permissibility of the fee."
     Courts have allowed a $3,000 adult business licensing fee and festival permit fees of $950 to $6,500, Koeltl noted.
     The gun owners also misfired on arguments that the $350 licensing fee, and identical renewal fees every 3 years, went to purposes other than administrative fees.
     "The User Cost Analysis performed by the OMB in 2003 indicates that the average cost to the city at that time for each handgun license application was $343.49, more than the $340 fee at issue," the order states.
     "In addition, a User Cost Analysis performed by the OMB in 2010 indicates that the cost to the City for each Premises Residence handgun license application was $977.16 for each initial application and $346.92 for each renewal application. ... Thus, as of 2010, the fee for each Premises Residence handgun license application - the only type of license at issue here - represented only 34.79 percent of the per-unit costs incurred by the city."
     Koeltl closed the case, which involves only home-licensing fees. The identical carry fees have not been challenged.