NY SAFE ACT Lawsuit Updates
On 12/31/13 Judge William Skretny of the United States District Court for the Western District of NY  rendered a decision in the NYSRPA lawsuit against the NY SAFE ACT.
Generally speaking the Judge ruled that the 7 round magazine limit was unconstitutional while upholding most of the remaining portions of the law.
What this means to us from a practical point of view is outlined in the following memo from the NYS Sheriff's Association:
       As you may know, the United States District Court for the Western District has issued a ruling in the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Cuomo, the legal challenge to the SAFE Act. I am currently writing a detailed summary of the case, but I wanted to inform you of the immediate, practical effects of the ruling.
First and foremost, the judge in the case has ruled that Penal Law § 265.00(37), which imposes a 7 round limit on the number rounds a citizen may load into their firearm, is unconstitutional and is struck down.The practical effect of this ruling is that this portion of the law, which technically remains on the books, is null and void; it has no legal effect.
Second, there were several provisions of the law which were struck down for vagueness. This included the provision listing a muzzle "break" as a assault weapon feature. The state argued that the provision was supposed to read muzzle "brakes," referring to a device that reduces recoil. But the judge said the clause, as written, is "meaningless" and therefore too vague to withstand scrutiny. As such, a semiautomatic rifle which has a muzzle brake, and no other enumerated feature, now does not qualify as an assault weapon, and does not need to be registered.
Another provision that was struck for vagueness was the section referring to and regulating weapons that are a "semiautomatic version of an automatic rifle, shotgun or firearm." The judge found that the language "excessively vague as an ordinary person cannot know whether any single semiautomatic pistol is a 'version' of an automatic one. So again, if such a weapon does not otherwise qualify as an assault weapon, it is not to be considered one.
Finally, the last provision that was struck for vagueness was A clause in Penal Law §265.36 which makes it illegal to possess a large capacity ammunition feeding device manufactured prior to Sept. 13, 1994 "and if…such person lawfully possessed such large capacity feeding device before the effective date…that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition."However, only the above part of the provision was struck down, while the remaining parts remain effective. The provision now effectively reads:
It shall be unlawful for a person to knowingly possess a large capacity ammunition feeding device manufactured before September thirteenth, nineteen hundred ninety-four…An individual who has a reasonable belief that such device is of such a character that it may lawfully be possessed and who surrenders or lawfully disposes of such device within thirty days of being notified by law enforcement or county licensing officials that such possession is unlawful shall not be guilty of this offense. It shall be a rebuttable presumption that such person knows that such large capacity ammunition feeding device may not be lawfully possessed if he or she has been contacted by law enforcement or county licensing officials and informed that such device may not be lawfully possessed. Unlawful possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device is a class A misdemeanor.
The struck language here has little effect on the law. Large capacity magazines are still defined as those able to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition, manufactured after 1994. This definition, combined with the remaining effective language found in Penal Law §265.36, banning possession of such magazines manufactured before 1994, essentially bans all large capacity magazines regardless of when they were made. All other parts of the law were upheld as valid and constitutional.
It is our opinion that the practical effect of this ruling is that these portions of the law are null and void and do not apply to any resident of NYS. There remains the possibility that this decision will be overturned on appeal, or that another district court within the State will come to a different conclusion, which would change things. Although at this time, as far as we know, there is no other litigation challenging this law in another NYS district court.
There are some who are arguing that this ruling only applied to residents within the Western District of New York, although we do not believe this is the case. The issue of the applicability of the ruling outside the Western District of New York is complicated, and merits further research and discussion. In any event, it is likely that this decision will be appealed, prompting a ruling from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which would certainly have statewide effect.
My comprehensive memo will go into more depth analyzing the decision, as well as attempt to forecast any future litigation.Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Alex Wilson
Associate Counsel
New York State Sheriffs Association
This opinion was also backed up by a similiar one issued by SCOPE and the Governor.on 1/6/14 was quoted as saying "The Law is what a court says it is until it's appealed and another court says differently"
Both the NYSRPA & The Attorney General have filed notices of intent to appeal this ruling.
If the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agrees to hear the case it may take another year for them to render a decision.
After that another year to reach the United States Supreme Court.
The NYSRPA has spent $600,000 to date on this suit. If you have not already, please send them a few bucks, because if you don't ...who will?
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