Since July 2015, the Libertarian Party of Erie County and nine upstate New York residents have been fighting in a federal court in Rochester, N.Y., to overturn several statues in the penal code related to licensing. The laws state that applicants for a firearms license must be over 21 years old, have “good moral character,” have no history of crime or mental illness, and show no “good cause” to deny the license.
Their lawsuit claimed that the restrictions ran afoul of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Frank Geraci, Jr. found the gun laws do not infringe on those rights.
“While NYS’s firearms licensing laws implicate the core Second Amendment right, they do not substantially burden it,” he wrote in a 26-page decision, abbreviating New York State. “The licensing laws place no more than ‘marginal, incremental, or even appreciable restraint on the right to keep and bear arms.’”
Geraci notes that the experiences of those who filed the lawsuit bear this out.
“As plaintiffs note, law-abiding, responsible citizens face nothing more than time, expense, and questioning of close friends or relatives,” the ruling continues.
Five of the gun enthusiasts who brought the case never applied for a license. One had a license suspended then subsequently reinstated, and another had a license that was always in good standing.
Judge Geraci ruled that these seven plaintiffs lacked standing, a legal term for the right to sue.
Two other men – John Murtari and William Cuthbert – were given the green light to pursue their case on the merits and lost.
“Here, NYS’s firearms licensing laws are substantially related to NYS’s governmental interest,” Geraci wrote. “The prior decisions within this circuit are clear: the licensing laws are designed to ensure that ‘only law-abiding, responsible citizens are allowed to possess’ a firearm.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman applauded the ruling.
“This decision is a victory for sensible gun laws and New York’s fundamental responsibility to protect our communities,” he said in a statement. “Common sense guidelines that ensure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands are critical to our public safety. We’re glad the court agreed.”
In a phone interview, the plaintiffs’ Buffalo-based attorney James Ostrowski called failure in the trial court practically preordained.
“We didn’t really expect to win, and it’s always been our intention to bring this up to the Supreme Court,” Ostrowski said.
Before then, Ostrowski said, he plans to present the issues of the case to the Second Circuit, the New York City-based federal appeals court, where he plans to argue that lower courts have not been living up to the U.S. Supreme Court precedents set by McDonald v. Chicago and District of Columbia v. Heller.
The Heller decision had been the first to recognize an individual’s right to possess a firearm under the Second Amendment, by a hotly disputed 5-4 margin.
Less heralded by gun enthusiasts, the decision also upheld the government right to regulate firearms, but Ostrowski said that New York’s laws go too far.
“You need to get references by your neighbors, for godsake,” he exclaimed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found late last year that the rate of gun deaths in the United States rose to about 12 per 100,000 people in 2016, the second consecutive year in which the mortality rate had jumped.
As of 2015, New York’s tough firearm-control laws helped make it the state with the third lowest in gun fatalities in the nation.