Earlier this week, the United States Supreme Court refused to grant a request by the City of New York to delay the proceedings in the NRA-supported appeal of New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. City of New York (No. 15-683).
The case arises out of a challenge to New York City’s notoriously restrictive handgun licensing scheme.
Generally, New York state law prohibits even the possession of a handgun in the home without a license. A licensee in New York City must comply with additional and specific restrictions. A license is “not transferable to any other person or location,” and anyone with a “premises license” is prohibited from removing the handgun “from the address specified on the license.” However, because the rules also require licensees to “endeavor to engage in periodic handgun practice,” an exception at 38 R.C.N.Y. § 5-23(a)(3) allows a licensee to transport a handgun “to and from an authorized small arms range/shooting club.” This narrow exception applies only to seven ranges located in New York City. It restricts the travel to a direct route to and from the range, and requires the handgun to be transported unloaded, in a locked container, and separate from any ammunition. Licensees who wish to take their guns to other ranges or participate in events or competitions outside New York City, or who want to transport their guns to another location (other than the NYC address listed on the license), are prohibited from doing so.
In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal in this case. The petitioners, individual licensees and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA), argue that, apart from the “precisely zero empirical evidence” provided by the City to justify its licensing rules as a public safety measure, these “extreme, unjustified and irrational” transport and travel restrictions on lawfully owned handguns violate the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the fundamental right to travel.
Understandably, the case has attracted a great deal of attention, representing an opportunity for the Supreme Court to again address the scope of Second Amendment rights and to resolve the question of the correct analytical framework in the wake of the Heller case more than a decade ago.
However, on April 12, counsel for the City of New York and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) filed a motion with the Supreme Court seeking to suspend the proceedings, based on a new proposal to change the NYC handgun rules. The motion indicates that the NYPD has published a “Notice of Public Hearing and Opportunity to Comment on Proposed Rule,” which should set in motion a process that (after a public comment period and a public hearing) might result in a future change in the licensing rules.
This notice is clear that the proposed rulemaking is motivated by the NYSRPA litigation, with the hope – as expressed in the April 12 motion – that should the proposal be adopted, it could render the Supreme Court appeal moot and lead to its dismissal.
However, even assuming this proposed rule would pass into law as drafted, it represents only a limited modification to existing 38 R.C.N.Y. § 5-23(a). The proposal would not rescind the restraints already in place (and at issue in the appeal), but would allow a premises licensee to transport a handgun listed on their license to: (1) another premises of the licensee “where the licensee is authorized to have and possess a handgun;” (2) a small-arms range/shooting club authorized by law to operate as such, whether located within or outside New York City; and (3) a shooting competition at which the licensee may possess the handgun “consistent with the law applicable at the place of the competition.” All of these retain the requirement that the handgun be transported unloaded, in a locked container, with ammunition being “carried separately,” and that the licensee travel “directly” to and from these additional locations. Indeed, the proposed rule adds a new requirement to these provisions, that any transport within New York City must be “continuous and uninterrupted.”
Counsel for the petitioners responded to the City’s “extraordinary request” by indicating there is no good reason to grant an “indefinite hold.” The City’s motion is, at best, premature given the uncertain status of the proposed amendment, and the amendment itself is at odds with the City’s forceful defense of the existing rules as both necessary and constitutional. Even if passed, the rule changes would be insufficient to moot the case, as the City’s legal authority to impose such transport requirements, or “forbid or permit action beyond city and state borders,” are among the questions before the Court. The rulemaking proposal is nothing more than “a nakedly transparent effort to evade [the Supreme] Court’s review.”
As NRA-ILA’s Executive Director Chris W. Cox put it, “The City of New York did not respect its citizens’ Second Amendment rights before the Supreme Court granted review in this case and it will not respect them going forward. We are confident that the Court will reject New York’s desperate attempt to avoid review of its blatantly unconstitutional laws.”
Consistent with his prediction, on April 29, the Court declined to grant the motion. A date for oral arguments has not been set, but the petitioners are due to file their opening brief with the Court this month.
Your NRA will continue to keep you informed on the progress of this important litigation.