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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun Advocates Challenge New York Law

BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) - Gun dealers, owners and sports shooting groups challenged New York State's new gun-control law as unconstitutional, in Federal Court.

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association et al. sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials, challenging the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, known as the NY SAFE Act.

Cuomo signed the bill in January in response to the shooting rampage that killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

The law expands the definition of banned assault weapons, to include semiautomatic pistols, rifles and shotguns that have detachable magazines and military-style features.

It also outlaws high-capacity magazines and limits who can sell ammunition.

The 10 plaintiffs-four associations, three weapons dealers and three people-claim the state violated the Second Amendment and constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.

They want enforcement of the law enjoined.

They also sued the New York attorney general, the superintendent of the state police, the district attorney of Erie County, and the police chief of Lancaster, N.Y.

Second Amendment advocates have staged protests against the SAFE Act, including one in Albany on March 1 that drew some 5,000 protesters.

County governments also have called for repeal, as have two pro se lawsuits in Albany County Supreme Court.

One pro se complaint challenged the law on Second Amendment grounds. The other claimed the "message of necessity" used to push the bill quickly through the Legislature violated the state constitution.

That pro se lawsuit, signed by more than 1,200 plaintiffs from 59 of New York's 62 counties, was supported by affidavits from the New York State Association of Counties, the New York State Association of County Clerks and the New York State Sheriffs ' Association.

The new federal complaint cites the legislation's quick passage "without notice to the public or committee hearings," but focuses on the "new offenses with severe criminal penalties" for "previously lawful activities involving the acquisition and possession of rifles, handguns, shotguns, ammunition magazines and ammunition."

For instance, possession of a high-capacity magazine (holding more than seven rounds) became a felony; so did possession or transportation/disposition of firearms newly classified as assault weapons, according to the complaint.

Magazine capacity limits "infringe on the right of the people, including plaintiffs, to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment," the complaint states.

"The act's provisions on magazines put law-abiding citizens at a grave disadvantage to criminals, who will not comply with the seven-round limit."

The complaint contrasts that limit with the 10-round magazines allowed under the law for use at firing ranges or at sanctioned shooting matches.

"The aforesaid discrimination against homeowners who wish to protect themselves and their families from violence, and in favor of persons involved in mere sporting activities, is utterly irrational and denies to plaintiffs and members of plaintiff associations the equal protection of the laws, contrary to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. It also, of course, infringes on the core right of self-defense guaranteed by the Second Amendment," the complaint states.

Because the SAFE Act restricts sale of ammunition to licensed firearms dealers or to ammunition sellers registered with the State Police, it violates Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce, according to the complaint.

"The effect ... is to grant a monopoly on ammunition sales to sellers of ammunition and dealers in firearms which are based only in New York. By allowing in-state businesses to sell ammunition directly to consumers in New York but prohibiting out-of-state businesses from doing so, the act discriminates against interstate commerce, in violation of the Commerce Clause," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs also claim that parts of the new law "fail to provide adequate notice and are vague, in violation of the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment."

It cites the expansion of the ban on assault weapons to "certain rifles with 'a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon,' as well as certain rifles, shotguns and pistols with 'a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand.'

"No measurement in inches, angles in degrees, or other information define these terms," the complaint states. "... In the absence of standards, such matters are in the eye of the beholder."

This vagueness violates plaintiffs' rights "not to be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law," the complaint states.

Plaintiffs include Assemblyman William Nojay, who represents a district near Rochester and owns a gun, and three manufacturers and sellers of firearms and ammunition: Bedell Custom of Erie County, Beikirch Ammunition Corp. of Monroe County and Blueline Tactical & Police Supply of Westchester County.

All three claim their sales have been harmed by the SAFE Act.

Beikirch claims it recently bought a firearms and ammunition business in Pennsylvania and is contemplating shutting down its New York operations.

Representing the plaintiffs are Brian Stapleton of Goldberg Segalla in White Plains and Stephen Halbrook of Fairfax, Va.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun-control bills on Wednesday, sparking more complaints from gun advocates, including three Colorado sheriffs who said they would refuse to enforce the law.

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