Federal Judge Finds Gun Law Is Flawed But Largely Upholds

, New York Law Journal

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Gun rights advocates demonstrate against the state's gun law
Gun rights advocates demonstrate against the state's gun law outside the Capitol in Albany in February 2013.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature gun-control measure, enacted in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in December 2012, has largely survived a broad Second Amendment attack as a federal judge in Buffalo upheld most of the provisions of the law.

Western District Chief Judge William Skretny (See Profile) said in a lengthy decision posted on Tuesday that while the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 is "not constitutionally flawless," its major elements do not run afoul of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Skretny found that:

• New York has presented "considerable evidence" that its regulation of so-called "assault weapons" and large capacity magazines "is substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest" and does not violate the Second Amendment in that regard.

• The requirement that ammunition sales take place "face-to-face" and in-person does not unduly burden interstate commerce and therefore does not violate the Commerce Clause.

• A provision limiting magazines to seven rounds "is largely an arbitrary restriction that impermissibly infringes on the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."

The SAFE Act, quickly proposed by the governor and enacted by the Legislature after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings on Dec. 14, 2012, dramatically altered New York's gun laws and led to both praise and widespread criticism.

Several organizations, led by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, promptly challenged the law on various grounds, ranging from the Second Amendment to the Equal Protection and Commerce clauses. Skretny, in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Cuomo, 13-cv-291, addressed those issues in a 54-page decision issued on New Year's Eve.

"This Court finds that the challenged provisions of the SAFE Act—including the Act's definition and regulation of assault weapons and its ban on large-capacity magazines—further the state's important interest in public safety, and do not impermissibly infringe on Plaintiff's Second Amendment rights," Skretny wrote. "But, the seven-round limit fails the relevant test because the purported link between the ban and the State's interest is tenuous, strained, and unsupported in the record."

The seven-round limit has already proven problematic, leading to multiple complaints by gun owners that such magazines are not readily available. Earlier this year, Cuomo proposed altering the law to permit the sale of 10-round magazines, while still prohibiting gun owners from loading more than seven rounds.

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