ALBANY — Gun rights activists are hoping a New York legal battle headed to the nation’s highest court will determine whether residents have the same right to concealed carry permits as people in 42 other states with less restrictive firearms laws.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other proponents of stringent gun control statutes are hoping New York’s statute giving discretion to the permit issuing authority in each county will be upheld.
The case is expected to produce the most significant ruling on Second Amendment rights since 2010.
It has its origins in upstate Rensselaer County, where two men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, along with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, mounted a legal challenge after a local judge determined the men did not sufficiently show why they needed handguns outside the home for self-defense.
The New York law says the licensing authority “may” issue concealed carry permits, resulting in a patchwork of county-to-county approaches in how the applications are evaluated. Those challenging the statute argue New York has effectively been stripping its residents of their constitutional right to firearms unless the applicants can prove there is an “especially good reason” for wanting guns.
“If they affirm the right of New York residents to have a concealed carry permit, what they are doing is reaffirming that the Second Amendment is not just a right that is guaranteed in your home but that it’s guaranteed anywhere,” Tom King, president of the state Rifle & Pistol Association, told CNHI. “And that will be important for the entire nation and the other states with laws similar to New York’s law.”
King’s group is affiliated with the National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun rights advocate. The organization is often at odds with Cuomo and other promoters of strict gun control laws, including state Attorney General Letitia James.
Responding to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the New York gun case, Cuomo said: “The streets of New York are not the O.K. Corral, and the NRA’s dream of a society where everyone is terrified of each other and armed to the teeth is abhorrent to our values.”
James, meanwhile, signaled her office will argue the New York statute should be upheld.
Many upstate police executives say they support Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens who go through the background checks in order to get a handgun.
“Gun crimes are usually committed by people who have guns illegally, so we don’t have many concerns about legal guns,” said Patrick Phelan, director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. “The gun permit process in New York should be to determine if a person is unfit to possess a gun, based on whether they have a criminal record or they have a serious mental health problem. We have no opposition to legal gun ownership. We don’t see that as a public safety problem.”
Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti and Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond offered similar reasoning as to why they believe a person who is cleared for a regular pistol permit be allowed to have the weapon concealed when he or she heads outside.
“If they go through the entire vetting process and they meet all of the requirements, then I see no reason why they shouldn’t be granted a concealed carry permit,” Filicetti said.
Said DuMond: “If a judge feels the person is capable of having a pistol permit, why would they restrict them from a concealed carry?”
DuMond said he believes having legally armed civilians is an effective way to deter violent crimes in communities. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said. He also noted his county now requires applicants for pistol permits to complete gun safety instruction.
The high court’s move to hear the case came shortly after several multiple shootings across the country.
Hannah Shearer, litigation director at the Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group, said that “the outlook does not look very good for gun safety laws at the Supreme Court,” with its latest conservative addition joining the court after four justices “previously signaled hostility to gun safety laws.”
If the top court does side with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, the ruling would be “extreme” and “would be out of step with Second Amendment precedent, historical evidence, and the views of the overwhelming majority of Americans.”
Meanwhile, the federal lower courts, Shearer said, “have developed a consistent and effective approach to interpreting the constitutionality of gun safety laws that protects both rights and public safety.”
The Supreme Court will hear the case, billed as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett, in the term that begins in October.
King said he won’t make predictions on the outcome.
“If the case is decided on an intellectual basis and a constitutional basis, I think we will be successful because we have the right fact pattern and the right evidence pattern,” he said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org