Licensed gun owners in New York City do not face an undue Second Amendment burden imposed by regulations that ban traveling with a gun to firing ranges and homes outside of the city, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Friday.
The panel of Circuit Judges Rosemary Pooler, Gerard Lynch and Susan Carney affirmed the previous order granting summary judgment in favor of the New York City Police Department issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet of the Southern District of New York.
State law requires firearm owners to obtain locally issued firearm licenses. In New York City, the police department issues those licenses, which come with restrictions. Absent a special carry license, individuals are not allowed to transport their weapons out of the gun range where they’re registered to practice.
The individual plaintiffs in the suit, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, along with the gun advocate organization, argued on Second Amendment and other grounds that the restrictions placed an unconstitutional burden on gun owners.
Specifically, they argued restrictions that don’t allow them to visit gun ranges outside of city limits and, in the case of one plaintiff, prohibit transporting a firearm licensed to a home in the city to another home upstate violated their constitutional rights as gun owners.
In its order Friday, the panel agreed with Sweet that the city’s rules didn’t represent such a violation. At the core of the analysis by the panel was the fact that, in the end, none of the restrictions represented dead ends for owners. Unlike recent cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and sister appellate circuits that struck down municipal bans on handguns in homes or shooting ranges within city limits, New York City’s restrictions still left options open to gun owners.
Nothing stops a gun owner from purchasing and registering another firearm at a different address outside of the city, the panel noted. And while it’s possible that gun ranges were cheaper and closer to the homes of the gun owners, the fact that seven ranges operated across New York City, open to the public, meant the city’s restrictions left reasonable options open for gun owners.
“That the rule restricts practicing with their own firearms to ranges within the city does not make practicing outside the city or with their own firearms impossible, just not the two together,” the panel said.
After dismissing arguments that the panel use a close scrutiny analysis to examine the city’s ordinance, the panel’s intermediate look found the city had a vested public safety interest in the rule. It noted that an early program that allowed gun owners to travel outside the city to other ranges was ended in 2001, after numerous licensees were found far from gun ranges with loaded weapons.
“The burdens imposed by the rule do not substantially affect the exercise of core Second Amendment rights, and the rule makes a contribution to an important state interest in public safety substantial enough to easily justify the insignificant and indirect cost it imposes on Second Amendment interests,” the panel stated.
The appellants’ other arguments were also dispatched by the panel. The city’s rule didn’t violate the Constitution’s commerce clause, the panel said, because “[t]he plaintiffs are free to patronize firing ranges outside of New York City and outside of New York state; they simply cannot do so with their premises-licensed firearm.”
The additional argument that it violates their right to travel failed for similar reasons, since the plaintiffs were free to travel, the panel said, just not with their guns. The panel also dismissed the argument that a First Amendment violation was present, since “[g]athering with others for a purely social and recreational activity … does not constitute expressive association under the First Amendment.”
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said the city was pleased the panel “upheld this important rule.”
“Limiting public transport of handguns licensed for home possession makes us all safer,” he said.
The appellants were represented on appeal by Bancroft partner Erin Murphy. Neither she, nor the NYSRPA responded to a request for comment on the decision.
A spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, which appeared as an amicus curiae in support of the appellants, did not return a request for comment.