NYSRPA: After Heller NYC Might Be Next
If gun enthusiasts are victorious this month when the Supreme Court declares what rights exist under the Second Amendment, their next target may be New York City's strict gun control laws.
The federal high court may issue its historic decision on gun rights as early as today, and certainly by no later than month's end.
Obtaining a gun license in New York City is now a lengthy and costly endeavor. In the span of a decade, a New Yorker with a licensed handgun at home will pay more than $1,000 in fees.
Some of the obstacles facing prospective gun owners in the city may change if the Supreme Court rules that individuals have a constitutional right to keep a gun for protection.
"If there is an individual right, then bureaucratic discretion in permitting and registering guns is going to be minimized," a lawyer who financed the case currently before the Supreme Court, Robert Levy, said, adding that "you cannot allow bureaucrats the option of denying people constitutional rights."
The Supreme Court's ruling is highly anticipated because the Supreme Court has said little in its history about whether the Second Amendment protects individual gun ownership or just the right of states to organize militia units.
The Second Amendment case before the nine is a legal challenge to Washington, D.C.'s gun control laws. Washington has a near-complete ban on handguns and requires that shotguns and rifles be disassembled or fixed with a trigger lock when kept at home.
The bent of the questions the justices asked at oral argument in March left little doubt among legal experts that a majority will recognize an individual right to own guns. It's possible that a ruling that strikes down Washington's federal law could have no effect on municipal gun control laws elsewhere. The Second Amendment, the Supreme Court could decide, poses a limit on the gun control enacted by the federal government, but not on a state's power to police guns. But that is a remote possibility, given that the judges have read the equal protection clause to restrict the states from violating rights enshrined in other amendments to the federal constitution.
Mayor Bloomberg has emerged as a foe of the gun industry. In the name of public safety he has pressed lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and sellers across the East Coast. The city's gun control laws have not changed dramatically during his administration.
Mayor Bloomberg's criminal justice coordinator, John Feinblatt, said that the decision from the Supreme Court will "not in any way" force a change to New York's laws.
"If the court finds, as most people predict it will, that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to gun ownership," Mr. Feinblatt said, "that will not have an effect on reasonable regulations."
Still, both sides on the debate over municipal gun control expect the ruling from Washington to set off an unprecedented wave of litigation over gun control nationwide.
"I think the real risk here is not what the court will say," Mr. Feinblatt said. "The risk here is that, after years of criticizing litigation, the gun lobby will get in the litigation business and become litigation-happy."
The lawyer who argued against Washington's ban before the Supreme Court, Alan Gura, said: "I do expect there will be other litigation."
He added: "There are going to be some gun laws that will not survive, and others that do."
Mr. Levy, speaking from his home in Asheville, N.C., said he had no plans to organize a suit challenging New York's laws, as he had done in Washington. Still, Mr. Levy, who is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said gun control restrictions in New York would make a good target for a lawsuit.
He described New York's gun control laws as being less restrictive than those in Washington or Chicago, "but worse than just about everybody else."
Getting a handgun license in New York is time-consuming and expensive. The general counsel to the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Patrick Brophy, said that shepherding an application for a gun license often requires four trips to police headquarters and a six-month time wait.
Gun rights proponents interviewed cited two items in New York's gun control laws that would be especially vulnerable to legal challenge depending on the Supreme Court's ruling. One is a requirement that firearms generally be kept inoperable when not being handled. The other is a licensing fee of $340 that New Yorkers must pay every three years in order to keep a handgun at home or at a business.
"Does it constitute an infringement of an individual right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to charge a citizen $340 every three years for exercising that right?" Mr. Brophy asked, adding that he believed it was an infringement. "You can't tax a right out of existence and call it a user fee," he said.
Mr. Feinblatt said that the licensing fee didn't raise an issue.
"Nobody who pays the fee likes to pay the fee, but there isn't a constitutional right not to have a fee," he said.