New York State Defeats Challenge to Gun Licensing Laws

Aug. 11, 2020, 6:38 PM

New York residents who said the state’s gun licensing laws violated their fundamental right to possess firearms lacked standing to challenge the regulations and failed to show that the criteria for licensing were impermissibly vague, the Second Circuit ruled Tuesday.

The Libertarian Party of Erie County and several individual plaintiffs sued state officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over New York’s general prohibition on the possession of firearms without a license. They sought injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

To obtain a license for at-home possession of a firearm in New York, an applicant must show “good moral character” and that “no good cause exists for denial of the license.” Additional “proper cause” must be shown to obtain a concealed carry permit.

A federal district court concluded that the Libertarian Party and several individual plaintiffs, none of whom had applied for a firearm license or alleged that their application would have been futile, lacked standing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment. “Mere objection or antipathy to the law doesn’t constitute a showing of futility,” Judge Amalya L. Kearse wrote for the court.

The lower court was also correct to dismiss the claims of a plaintiff whose gun license was temporarily suspended when he was arrested, then reinstated, as well as the claims of plaintiffs who had obtained licenses but alleged they feared their licenses would be revoked.

Their apprehensions were speculative, and insufficient to constitute injury in fact, the judges said.

The Second Circuit agreed that only two individual plaintiffs had standing to bring claims, both of whom were New York citizens whose applications for permits had been denied. But one plaintiff, who challenged the denial of his concealed carry application, had moved out of state, and the other claims were barred by judicial immunity granted to the judge who denied his application, the opinion said.

Finally, the district court had correctly rejected a claim that the terms “good cause” and “proper cause” were too vague to be capable of putting an applicant or reviewing court on notice.

The plaintiffs failed to establish that no set of circumstances existed under which the law would be valid, Kearse said.

Judges John M. Walker Jr. and Dennis Jacobs joined the opinion.

The New York State Office of the Attorney General represents the state officers. James Ostrowski of Buffalo, New York represents the plaintiffs.

The case is Libertarian Party of Erie v. Cuomo, 2d Cir., No. 18-00386, 8/11/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maeve Allsup in San Francisco at mallsup@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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