A New York gun control law that prohibits firearms in Times Square, Yankee Stadium, the subway, and other sensitive areas is on shaky legal ground after a judge ruled that the provisions violate the Second Amendment, though the ruling has been halted while the case is appealed.
The ongoing legal battle over New York’s gun control measure is just one part of a shifting legal landscape as a result of the conservative Supreme Court’s 6-3 expansion of the Second Amendment in a June ruling, which has led lower courts to block or strike down gun control measures at an alarming rate.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen this summer, judges across the country have ruled that banning guns without serial numbers, preventing people under felony indictment from purchasing guns, and prohibiting guns from airports and even summer camp are all unconstitutional.
“In the immediate aftermath, we’ve got a half-dozen courts striking down laws based on this decision,” said Jake Charles, a law professor at Pepperdine University. “I believe the fallout from Bruen will be shocking to people in the first six months.”
The previous term of the Supreme Court was dominated by the Republican-appointed justices’ decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, the court’s aggressive pursuit of other conservative agenda items, such as expanding the Second Amendment, is now coming into sharper focus as lower courts grapple with the implications of the gun-rights decision.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ majority opinion interpreted the Second Amendment broadly to protect the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. Simultaneously, the decision reaffirmed that gun rights can be lawfully limited, specifically through gun control measures rooted in the “nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
However, the court’s “historical tradition” test has been widely criticized as being too broad and providing little assistance to judges who are not trained historians. The Bruen test also removed the formal requirement that judges consider whether a challenged law is effective at preventing gun violence, which could jeopardize public safety.
One area of Second Amendment ambiguity tested in the New York case involves so-called “sensitive places,” areas where the Supreme Court said guns could be lawfully prohibited, despite leaving the term largely undefined.
In response to the Supreme Court’s late-June ruling, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed legislation on July 1 criminalizing the carrying of firearms in airports, houses of worship, Times Square, and other sensitive areas, as well as imposing stricter licensing requirements. The group Gun Owners of America immediately filed a legal challenge.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Syracuse ruled in favor of the gun-rights group, temporarily halting key provisions of New York’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA). U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby said in a 53-page ruling that some of the law’s heightened licensing requirements and location-specific bans, such as the prohibition of guns in Times Square, went too far.
Gun Owners of America, the case’s plaintiff, applauded the decision.
“Anti-gunners like Kathy Hochul and [New York City Mayor] Eric Adams lied and misrepresented the Second Amendment to the courts, putting New Yorkers at a significant disadvantage in the face of rising crime,” the group’s senior vice president, Erich Pratt, said at the time. “We are grateful to Judge Suddaby for his quick action to restore the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Suddaby, a former President George W. Bush appointee, directed New York officials to halt enforcement of the provisions at issue. However, he delayed his decision’s implementation, allowing state officials to file an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which has since halted Suddaby’s ruling while the case is heard there.
Suddaby claimed that New York officials had only justified some of the law’s new restrictions on constitutional grounds, while failing to adequately defend others.
The judge specifically upheld provisions that restricted guns from government-owned or temporarily restricted property, polling places, houses of worship (with some exceptions), schools, and public assemblies.
But he blocked gun bans in places of public transportation, summer camps, Times Square and entertainment venues such as theaters, stadiums, concerts and bars.
Hochul called the ruling “disappointing,” while vowing to do “everything in my power” to combat gun violence.