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Friends Indeed: 22 State Attorneys General Join Pro-Second Amendment Brief in SAFE Act Appeal

Friday, August 8, 2014

Amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs have been filed in Nojay v. Cuomo, the appeal from the decision of Judge William Skretny last year that largely upheld New York’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (“SAFE”) Act.  The plaintiffs challenged bans on large-capacity magazines and “assault weapons” (as redefined), the requirement that magazines contain no more than seven rounds, and new rules on ammunition sales, as unconstitutional.  After Judge Skretnty denied most of these claims, the case (decided as New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. Cuomo) was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Attorneys General for 22 states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming – have filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs.

In contrast, the chief legal officers for only nine states (plus D.C.) – Maryland, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Oregon – have opted to support the SAFE Act through their own amicus filing.  Predictably, many of these jurisdictions have gun laws that similarly restrict or ban "assault weapons" and “large capacity” magazines.  The ends-driven argument in support of the SAFE Act is that the “absolutist reading of the Second Amendment advanced by the plaintiffs” threatens to “tie the hands of states in responding” to threats to public safety.  Yet the plaintiffs simply assert that the outright ban of firearms commonly used for lawful purposes by law-abiding citizens burdens the fundamental right to keep and bear arms and should be subject to the highest level of court review in accordance with constitutional law.

Amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs’ arguments have also been filed by the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc., the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, the Law Enforcement Action Network, and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, among others.

The NRA brief argues that laws like the SAFE Act, that prohibit the possession of firearms in the homes of law-abiding citizens where “Second Amendment guarantees are at their zenith,” must be subject to the highest standard of constitutional review:  strict scrutiny.  It adds that the “social science” evidence regarding the SAFE Act’s supposed public safety benefits, which was heavily relied on in Judge Skretny’s opinion, is clearly an insufficient foundation for the court’s conclusions when analyzed critically and carefully.  For example, one expert in the case admitted that state-level restrictions on firearms and magazines did not have an impact on crime, contrary to the “links” the court drew between the evidentiary record, the SAFE Act prohibitions, and the impact on public safety.

The appellate case has yet to be heard, but among those states that have weighed in on it, the clear weight of opinion is against the constitutionality of the SAFE Act.  Upon a fair and impartial hearing, that view should also prevail in the Second Circuit.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.