New Gun Control Measures in New York, New Jersey Face Intensifying Legal Scrutiny

Pending legal challenges offer the Supreme Court its first chance to review blue states’ new gun laws in the wake of Bruen and decide whether or not they comply with the court’s precedent.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file
The Supreme Court at Washington, July 14, 2022. AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file

After a devastating blow at the Supreme Court last year, blue state gun control advocates are advancing new laws to try and circumvent the ruling but finding themselves back in court almost as quickly as they do. If the pace of the proceedings continues, Second Amendment advocates say the high court will almost certainly need to step in again.

In last year’s landmark decision, New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court said that many gun restrictions are unconstitutional. Following the decision, many blue states attempted to rewrite their stringent gun laws.

Gun rights advocates say that in most cases, the new laws are as bad or even worse than the old ones and are challenging the rewritten codes in court. 

A New York case, Antonyuk v. Nigrelli, is pending before the Supreme Court after the Second Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals placed on hold two district court decisions that struck down key elements of New York State’s new gun law, the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. 

The case before the justices asks that several provisions of the CCIA not be allowed to take effect while the appeals process plays out. Two different district courts found parts of the law to be unconstitutional, and the appeals process has not yet yielded a result. 

The president of the New York County Lawyers Association, Vincent Chang, told the Sun that there are a number of possible outcomes to the New York case. “There hasn’t been a final decision from the circuit court yet, and the Supreme Court could just stay out of it while the appeals process plays out,” Mr. Chang said. 

“But the countervailing factor is that the Second Circuit is a vital court, and this will be the first time the Supreme Court has heard a Second Amendment case since Bruen,” Mr. Chang said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the justices were skeptical of this new law.” He added that the Supreme Court is “almost guaranteed” to review these standards should different circuit courts reach “divergent or conflicting” conclusions. 

Just before Christmas, Second Amendment advocates filed their case for emergency relief with Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the justice for the Second Circuit. The gun rights groups said that the court of appeals overstepped in allowing the CCIA to take effect after two judges ruled certain of its provisions to be unconstitutional.

The Second Amendment group said “the express purpose of the Concealed Carry Improvement Act was to defy, repudiate, circumvent, and undermine this Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.” It also called the New York case a “futile effort at damage control.”

New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, defended the Second Circuit judges’ decision, writing that the CCIA made “necessary changes to the State’s firearms licensing and possession laws following this Court’s decision” in Bruen

The executive director of Duke University’s Center for Firearms Law, Andrew Willinger, told the Sun that there is a “ton of uncertainty” surrounding the viability of these gun laws in the wake of Bruen.

“If the court were to intervene and vacate the stay order, that sends a signal as to what the court thinks about this case,” Mr. Willinger said. “But the court must clarify issues that were only addressed in one or two paragraphs in the original decision, such as the ‘sensitive places’ restrictions.”

Mr. Willinger said that if the court takes the New York case on its merits for the full term, the justices will have their first opportunity to expand on their justifications and clarify their exact standards. 

Following the Bruen decision, Governor Hochul said that she would not “back down” in her efforts to restrict gun rights or “cede” ground to the Supreme Court. The gun rights groups say that these words describe an intent by Ms. Hochul to circumvent the courts while claiming to be acting in the public interest.

At the time, Democrats said the state legislature would find a way to “bring New York’s law into compliance with the decision,” but gun rights advocates say their real intent was to circumvent the will of the high court. 

The president of the pro-gun control Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, Richard Aborn, said the Bruen decision has “dangerous” implications, but is skeptical that the high court will get involved so quickly.

“The justices want to move forward in a timely, deliberative way, not in a rushed way,” Mr. Aborn told the Sun. “The Supreme Court does not want to micromanage every state legislature. Not even the most conservative justices want that.”

New Jersey’s post-Bruen gun law — which was signed just before Christmas — also faces challenges in the courts, and some Second Amendment advocates say that the Garden State’s intent matches that of Ms. Hochul: to undermine the high Court.

The executive director of the Association of New Jersey Pistol and Rifle Club, Scott Bach, has said his state’s gun law is a “big middle finger” to the Supreme Court and believes a challenge to it could also make its way to the court eventually.

On Monday, a federal district judge struck down much of New Jersey’s gun law, specifically the provision that — like New York — banned firearms from certain “sensitive places.” In her decision, Judge Renee Marie Bumb said the law was unconstitutional under the Bruen standard, further calling it “extensive and burdensome.”

Mr. Bach, whose group is not involved in this specific lawsuit but is seeking relief in another case, said that this decision is a vindication of gun rights and the Supreme Court’s primacy. In a statement to the Sun, Mr. Bach said that “this is just the first in what will become a long succession of unconstitutional gun laws that will be brought down in the Garden State.”

The New York case — and possibly the New Jersey lawsuit down the line — offers the Supreme Court its first chance to review blue states’ new gun laws in the wake of Bruen and decide whether or not they comply with the Supreme Court’s precedent.

The New York Sun

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