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Supreme Court Allows New York Ammunition Background Check To Take Effect

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied a gun store owner couple’s request to overturn New York’s background check law for ammunition purchases one day before it went into effect.

Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) signed the Empire State Concealed Carry Improvement Act in response to Justice Clarence Thomas’s 6-3 decision to overturn the state’s century-old restrictive gun permit system. In a paperless order, Sotomayor denied a request for a stay of several provisions of the act.

The lawsuit was filed by Nadine and Seth Gazzola, a husband and wife team who argued that the CCIA’s provisions would “put them out of business” unless the Supreme Court intervened, including requiring clients to pay for background checks on private gun sales. At least nine additional plaintiffs who own gun stores are named in the lawsuit.

Buyers of ammunition must now pay background check fees of $2.50 for ammunition and $9 for gun sales. These fees will go toward funding the new initiative, which will be overseen by the New York State Police Department, the Washington Examiner reported.

Some provisions of the law, such as the requirement for dealers to keep a physical or electronic record of gun purchases and sales documents, went into effect as recently as September 1. Certain regulations existed before the High Court decision last year.

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After being denied injunctive relief on January 18, the loss represents the high court’s second rejection of the Gazzola family. Before the plaintiffs sought relief from the Supreme Court, a federal trial judge and a federal appeals court refused to block the provisions. Sotomayor is the judge who hears cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

According to their request for a writ of injunction, a lawyer for the gun shop owners claimed that the 2nd Circuit has not yet taken any action on five significant lawsuits against the CCIA that were consolidated for oral arguments on March 20. He claimed that there has been “not a word in any of the five cases” aside from the couple’s Aug. 29 denial of an emergency motion at the 2nd Circuit.

On January 11, Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito advised different plaintiffs to reapply for relief at the Supreme Court if the 2nd Circuit doesn’t “within a reasonable time” explain its stays of several lower court orders that invalidated a number of the CCIA’s provisions.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place the state of New York’s updated concealed carry law that, among other things, prohibits the carrying of guns in “sensitive locations” as lower court proceedings against the statute proceed.

The nation’s highest court rebuffed a request from gun rights groups to block the law after justices ruled over the summer in a 6-3 decision that a previously concealed carry statute upon which the current one is modeled unconstitutionally restricted a citizen’s Second Amendment rights.

“No justices dissented in the ruling, but Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said in a statement that they believed the ruling was to ‘reflect respect’ for the appeals court that had previously let the law stay in effect, and did not ‘[express] any view on the merits of the case,'” Forbes noted in a summary of the ruling.

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“Gun owners asked the Supreme Court to block the law after a district court judge previously blocked it from staying in effect, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals then overruled that decision and let the law stand as the litigation against it moved forward,” the report noted further.

The new law, which was quickly passed after the nation’s high court struck down a previous concealed carry law in June that required applicants to show “proper cause” to carry a gun, implements requirements to obtain a concealed carry license while also imposing specific guidelines and restrictions about when guns can be carried in public. “Sensitive” locations include barring firearms from being carried in and near schools, churches, and hospitals.

The legality and constitutionality of the New York law will now play out in lower courts but will likely again come before the U.S. Supreme Court, especially given the take from Thomas and Alito that Wednesday’s decision has nothing to do with deciding the merits of the case itself.

In June, the high court issued its most significant pro-Second Amendment decision in nearly two decades when justices ruled 6-3 that New York’s concealed carry law was unconstitutionally restrictive.

The ruling, experts say, is significant because it means similarly restrictive concealed carry laws, limited primarily to blue states, are also likely to be successfully challenged.

“This decision is a big deal,” FiveThirtyEight noted in the wake of the ruling. “Previously, the court had only said that the Constitution protected the ability to have a gun inside the home for self-defense. In that decision, which came down in 2008, the justices didn’t rule on how guns carried outside the home could be regulated. It took almost 15 years for the justices to come back to that question, but now they have.”

The Second Amendment “protect[s] an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in the majority opinion for Thursday’s ruling. As such, FiveThirtyEight continued, statues like the one in New York, “which required people who wanted a license to carry a concealed handgun in public to show they have a good reason, are no longer allowed.”

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