NYC Playing Legal Games With Gun License Applications

AP Photo/John Minchillo

A few years ago, when the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association challenged a New York City gun control law restricting where licensed gun owners could travel with their firearms, the city defended their ordinance in court… until the Supreme Court accepted the case. Then the city (and state) stepped in to tweak the law in question in the hopes of rendering the case moot, and in April of 2020 the Supreme Court decided the case no longer had standing, though several justices vehemently disagreed, pointing out that New York had ample time to change the law but only did so when legal action threatened to set a nationwide precedent.

It appears that New York City is continuing that legal strategy, only this time they’re doing it with gun permits themselves.

The Firearms Policy Coalition’s Rob Romano discovered that the city has reversed course on at least two denials of gun licenses, but have waited until legal challenges to those denials were on the Supreme Court’s doorstep. Now the attorney for one of those plaintiffs is asking the Supreme Court to accept her clients case despite the fact that he’s now been approved, because the city “continues to orchestrate the manipulation of judicial review of unconstitutional firearm regulations, in violation of the Second Amendment.” Attorney Amy Bellantoni says in a cert petition filed with the Supreme Court that “the City’s repeated and wrongful conduct, and the Second Circuit’s disregard of it, give rise to this petition, which cries out for an exercise of this Court’s supervisory power.”

In other words, New York continues to jerk both gun owners and the courts around, and Bellantoni is hoping the Supreme Court will put a stop to it. In her brief, Bellantoni lays out how her client, Ralph Abekassis, was denied a permit to keep a gun in his home and initiated legal challenges. The city fought Abekassis’ attempt to exercise his Second Amendment rights, but suddenly reversed itself once it was clear that he wasn’t going to give in.

After Petitioner’s brief was fully submitted, detailing the unconstitutional analysis conducted by the district court, and just days before the City’s brief was due, the License Division emailed Petitioner directly and instructed him to pick up his handgun license at Police Headquarters. App-57. At the time of the email, there was no handgun license application pending, as Petitioner did not reapply after the City found him ineligible and unfit to possess handguns in 2019. After sending an [unsolicited] handgun license to the same Petitioner it deemed unfit to possess handguns and dangerous, the City moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. In opposing the City’s motion dismiss the appeal on mootness grounds, Petitioner argued that the regulations remain unchanged – the City did not cease the challenged conduct. Petitioner remains subject to the regulations. NYC handgun licenses are temporary and required to be renewed every three years. 38 RCNY 5-28, App-53. Petitioner will be subject to the same challenged “grounds for denial” three years from now and every three years thereafter.

It appears that New York City is still operating on a “may issue” basis when it comes to issuing gun permits, but applicants may improve their chances if they go through the expense of hiring an attorney and suing the city. Even then applicants should be prepared to pay extensive legal fees before the city backs down in the face of potential court action.

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess at the moment, but when they return in the fall they’ll have to decide whether or not to step in despite the fact that New York City has tried to moot these legal challenges. When the Court allowed New York off the hook last year, it did so over the objections of Sam Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas, who wrote in a dissenting opinion that “by incorrectly dismissing this case as moot, the Court permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced.” With New York up to its old tricks, gun owners are hoping that the three justices find a fourth who agrees that this type of manipulation needs to be quashed.