Supreme Court lets New York gun law remain in effect for now

Washington — The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to block a New York law passed in the wake of its major Second Amendment decision this summer that imposed new restrictions on carrying firearms in public, allowing the measure to remain in place while legal proceedings continue.

A group of six gun owners living in New York asked the high court to intervene in their dispute over the law, called the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, after a federal appeals court put on hold a lower court’s injunction halting enforcement of portions of the law. 

There were no noted dissents in the brief, unsigned order from the Supreme Court declining their request to block New York officials from enforcing the gun law. Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said in a separate statement that the New York law “presents novel and serious questions under both the First and Second Amendments.” 

Alito wrote that the court’s denial of the emergency request for a stay reflects “respect for the Second Circuit’s procedures in managing its own docket, rather than expressing any view on the merits of the case. Applicants should not be deterred by today’s order again seeking relief if the Second Circuit does not, within a reasonable time, provide an explanation for its stay order or expedite consideration of the appeal.”

In their request to the Supreme Court, the gun owners argued the stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit allows the state’s law to “strip New Yorkers of their right to keep and bear arms in a sweeping and unprecedented way.” The state’s gun law, they argued, violates the Second Amendment and stands in defiance of the Supreme Court’s central holding in its June decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

In that case, the Supreme Court invalidated the state’s permitting regime that limited who could carry concealed firearms in public. In an opinion written by Thomas, the high court for the first time recognized the right to carry a handgun outside the home and established a new history-and-tradition test for determining the constitutionality of firearms regulations.

Thomas wrote there were “few” 18th and 19th century sensitive places in the historical record where guns were prohibited — legislative assemblies, polling places and courthouses — but said “we therefore can assume it settled that these locations were ‘sensitive places’ where arms carrying could be prohibited consistent with the Second Amendment.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, also noted in a concurring opinion what he said were the limits of the Supreme Court’s decision, including that the Second Amendment allows for a variety of gun regulations, among them laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings.

New York’s law was an answer to the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision. Under the state’s new measure, a gun owner seeking a concealed carry license must demonstrate “good moral character,” provide a list of names and contact information for their spouse and children, provide a list of social media accounts for the past three years, and complete 16 hours of in-person training, among other requirements. The law also prohibits people from carrying firearms in 20 categories of “sensitive locations,” such as places of worship or religious observation, bars, ferries, banquet halls, public parks and Times Square.

The six New York gun owners filed their challenge to the state’s gun law in late September, and a federal district court blocked enforcement of several provisions of the measure, including the requirement to demonstrate “good moral character” as a condition of licensure, as well as the requirements to disclose three years of social media accounts and names and contact information for family and household members. 

The U.S. district court judge also blocked the prohibition on guns in some “sensitive” locations and the ban on firearms in “restricted locations,” considered to be all private property in the state unless the property owner allows firearms. 

State officials appealed to the 2nd Circuit, asking the appeals court to put the lower court’s order on hold. The court granted the request in mid-December, after which the gun owners turned to the Supreme Court.

New York’s gun law, they told the court, is “a patently unconstitutional law” and imposes “serious violations of the First, Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights — including nearly extinguishing the ability of New Yorkers with carry licenses to bear arms in public for self-defense.”

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