Under the gun: New York carry laws face renewed scrutiny from federal judge

Ross D. Franklin

While there are multiple lawsuits taking on various aspects of New York’s new laws governing concealed carry, the case to watch today is Antonyuk v. Hochul. On Thursday, a federal judge in Syracuse who previously declared many parts of the state’s new laws appear to be unconstitutional but also ruled that the plaintiffs challenging them did not have standing to sue, heard new arguments in the re-filed complaint and once again appeared to be deeply skeptical about the legality of several provisions.

Still, Judge Glenn Suddaby also appeared willing to throw New York a lifeline, or at least kick the case up to the Second Circuit so they can decide whether or not the laws should remain in effect while they’re being litigated.

Beyond the myriad of arguments targeting different portions of the law, Suddaby also has to decide what his role will be in determining the way forward.

If the judge finds parts of the law unconstitutional, should he strike only those portions or the entire law? If he does strike down all or part of the law, should his ruling go into effect right away or remain stayed until the state has time to appeal?

Suddaby suggested that, if he does rule against the law, he might allow the state time to appeal before his order goes into effect. That would, in essence, leave the fate of the law to an appellate court.

I really hope the judge doesn’t decide to punt the case to the Second Circuit, and instead grants a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the challenged provisions in the ironically named Concealed Carry Improvement Act. As plaintiffs attorney Stephen Stamboulieh argued in court on Thursday, the stakes to both the rights and personal safety of his clients and other New York gun owners are at stake here, and every day these laws remain in effect places gun owners at risk.

The state’s sweeping gun law forces otherwise law-abiding citizens to violate the law to exercise their Second Amendment rights, Stamboulieh responded. The threat of law-abiding citizens being arrested for a felony, punishable by prison time, for exercising their constitutional right to carry a gun was a “dire” situation, he said.

“Three days might be the difference between getting arrested or not,” Stamboulieh said of why the judge needed to act fast to strike down the law.

Both sides debated at length whether or not an Oswego County pastor should be able to carry his gun in church. Pastor Joseph Mann of the Fellowship Baptist Church, in Parish, is carrying his gun in defiance of the law banning guns in places of worship. He’s one of the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit, but was not required to be in court Thursday.

Stamboulieh said that Mann, and others in his congregation, had received special church-specific training in carrying guns to protect the church from attack.

But Thompson argued that banning weapons from places of worship might help prevent attacks by mass shooters. Suddaby questioned that argument, pointing to Stamboulieh’s argument that some attacks on religious services had been ended by armed congregants.

I don’t know why Suddaby would even consider the state’s argument here, which is based on the interest-balancing test that the Supreme Court squarely rejected in Bruen. It’s a dumb argument anyway, given that committed killers intent on targeting a church, synagogue, or mosque aren’t going to be dissuaded because the state’s declared houses of worship to be “gun-free zones.” Instead, as Stamboulieh argued, it’s the law-abiding worshippers who are at risk because of the new law.

More importantly, however, at least from a legal perspective, is the fact that state-imposed bans on guns in houses of worship have no historical analogue at either the time of the Founding or the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, rendering any modern day ban constitutionally questionable from the get-go. Most of New York’s “sensitive places,” in fact, have no real place in history. Instead, they’re part of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s defiant response to the Supreme Court striking down the state’s “good cause” requirement for concealed carry applicants.

Suddaby didn’t immediately issue a ruling on the request for a temporary restraining order that would halt enforcement of the new laws until a hearing on an injunction can be held at a later date, but we could see his decision at any point today or perhaps early next week. The state has already indicated it will appeal the judge’s decision if it goes against them, which is their prerogative, but given the stakes to life and liberty involved here the judge should grant the TRO and let it take effect immediately.