NY SAFE Act chronicles part 2: Meet Isaac, his lawsuit, and how NY puts service members' lives in danger

Seth Wenig

Almost a year ago part 1 of this series released and it dealt with how the NY SAFE Act takes already vulnerable people and turns them into victims. The NY SAFE Act and the Mental Hygiene Law (MHL) 9.46, creates a reporting system where medical care providers can have an individual’s Second Amendment right taken from them without due process. 


In part 1, we discussed Sandra “Sandy” Richardson and her journey from being a victim of this law, to stalwart advocate hellbent on seeing the demise of these due process crushing violations. Richardson’s story brought Isaac Richey into the conversation, and he too has a story about his rights being violated. Finding no relief in the process, he is suing the State of New York.

Richey, like Richardson, fell victim to New York’s unconstitutional law. Richey’s story, as well as Ricahrdson’s, was first mentioned to me by my friends over at Walk the Talk America, and they covered his ordeal. Richey and I spoke a few months ago after he first broke his story.

One of the things he’s stated to me that captures the scenario created by New York’s law is, “The government should not be allowed to use mental health to justify denying individuals their Second Amendment rights. It’s a dangerous precedent that could have far-reaching consequences,” he said. “I’m not just fighting for my rights; I’m fighting for the rights of every person who has ever struggled with mental health. We should be able to seek help without the fear of losing our constitutional rights.”

What happened to Richey, a veteran of the armed forces, involved him seeking voluntary help while stationed in upstate New York. Originally from Oregon, Richey joined the military after high school and ended up in the infantry. Part of the traditions of the unit he was in involved an extensive amount of hazing, including excessive forced exercise – aka getting “smoked,” which Richey says eventually morphed into including more verbal/psychological taunts. 

He said he might be asked, “you don’t know the answer to this?” when questioned, and then be told, “So you’re stupid. You’re a piece of sh**. You should know the answer to this. You’re holding everybody back, because you don’t know the answer to this.” He said that after living like that for a long enough time, it will wear a person down, rather than offer the hardening such treatment intends to create in individuals.

Richey openly discussed these things in the WTTA podcast from September as well as when we chatted on the phone. He opened up about whether or not he tended to his mental health, which he felt was deteriorating, “At the time, I wasn’t seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist, because the – especially in the infantry, they have that kind of mentality of ‘You don’t need to see that. We know we’re men. We kill people, this is what we do. You don’t need to see a therapist.’”


When Richey joined the military, he had lofty goals and there were different educational opportunities he wanted to take advantage of. Because he was the new guy, and a target for harassment, Richey said he was not given the chances to broaden his experience by getting into those learning dynamics. This non-support from his leadership in not helping him get the advancement he sought, along with the pre-existing issues from hazing compounded his mental health condition.

Things for Richey finally fell completely apart when he had to take an emergency leave when his grandmother – who raised him and was basically his mother – was nearing the end of her life, and he wanted to see her prior to her passing. When Richey requested an extension of his leave due to her eventual passing, and wanted to be able to attend her funeral, he said his commander denied the request. It was only after a group of his friends approached the commander to petition on Richey’s behalf did the leave extension get approved.

Richey realized his reality was to return to such a hostile environment after burying his grandmother that he “had extreme suicidal ideations,” which he noted he could “be considered suicidal.” That’s when he turned to his unit leader and “spilled the beans.” 

Richey explained he was telling his leader, who he trusted, about his issues when the military police showed up to check in on him. A friend from Iowa apparently called the military police to have them check on him, worried about his mental health state. Richey was told it’d probably be best that he voluntarily seek some help and admit himself into a facility under his own volition. He spent five days in a civilian hospital getting treatment, which he described as a great experience that helped him with working through his issues.

Richey reconciled with his stresses slowly over time, eventually healing. He did continue to see a therapist after his hospitalization, and served out the rest of his time in the military without any further issue, eventually getting honorably discharged. Richey returned back to his home in Oregon after his time was up.

When Richey was back in Oregon embarking on a new chapter of his life, he wanted to get a shotgun for self-defense purposes in the home. Richey went through the process to buy a gun and the NICS background check came back immediately denied. After querying the FBI about his NICS denial, they told Richey they had no idea why he was being denied. He was directed to a New York Sheriff’s office, who said they did not know why he was denied, and they referred him to the hospital. The hospital told him that when a person is involuntarily admitted to a hospital, they must report this to the federal government.


Richey recounted the situation, “Now, of course, I was pissed. Because for one, I wasn’t, it wasn’t involuntary. The police brought me to that hospital. They opened up the door, and they said, ‘Good luck,’ and then left. And I walked into those doors myself. So I didn’t understand.” 

He said it took about six months until he realized that he had to contact an office in New York called the NICS Appeal and Safe Act. He found out that the hospital put him on what’s called a “939 hold,” and that means even though he voluntarily admitted himself, the data gets back to the federal government as if he was involuntarily committed. Richey mused over his status as a prohibited person, looking back on the months following his hospitalization:

“I got out of the hospital and, I sh** you not, maybe two months later, I was out in the field shooting rocket launchers, throwing hand grenades, shooting machine guns. There was a two week period after a hospitalization where you can’t touch a gun. But after those two weeks, you’re good. So I literally did…we have a local training at that base called ‘mountain peak,’ and it was, it’s super fun. I got to shoot rocket launchers, throw hand grenades. I was shooting rifles and machine guns. I was shooting God damn grenade launchers. But I guess I’m, according to the state, and according to the federal government, I’m too crazy to own a gun.” –  Isaac Richey on his time post hospitalization

Richey went through the appeal process and it did not go well for him. It took several months, but he got a letter denying his appeal. Something that Richey said that really ties together some of the constitutional dangers of the NY SAFE Act and MHL 94.6 involved the lack of due process:

“This is gonna sound a little controversial, but I like to say that I have less rights right now than a felon does. And the reason I say that is because at least the felon has due process. I didn’t. I had no due process. There was no court proceeding that took away my fundamental rights in this country. There was no court, there was no judge, there was no commission, nothing. It was ‘You went to a hospital, so now we assume you’re a danger to the public. And we’re going to ban you from owning guns.’” – Isaac Richey on how felons have more rights than those seeking mental health help


I stayed in touch with Richey through the latter part of the process he went through to present day. Considering all the things that have been going on with the Second Amendment, personally I feel that his case has merit. Richey must have felt the same way, as he confided in me two weeks ago that he’s filed a lawsuit, Richey v. Sullivan et.al., case number 1:2023cv00344 in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York.

Reading through the case is angering, given the fact that Richey was punished for seeking medical care in a time of need. The facts of the case just ooze with infringement. After wrangling through about 21 pages of complaint, Richey’s prayer for relief was stated:

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests that this Court issue a judgment and order:

  • Declaring that being admitted for “emergency evaluation and observation” under MHL 9.39 does not cause the termination of Second Amendment rights;
  • Declaring that and that inclusion in the state’s reporting database(s) based on a MHL 9.39 admission violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments;
  • Declaring that the actions and failures to act of Defendants Sullivan, Rosado, and/or the Does in failing to train, supervise and/or discipline their staff as set forth herein violates the Fourth Amendment;
  • Declaring that Defendants’ policies and procedures violate the Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process; 
  • Declaring that MHL 7.09(j)(1) is unconstitutionally overbroad;
  • Preliminarily and permanently enjoining Defendants’ inclusion and maintenance of Plaintiff’s records information in the state database;
  • Preliminarily and permanently enjoining Defendants’ reporting to NICS and any other database information concerning Plaintiff that identifies him as a person prohibited from possessing, purchasing, transferring, or receiving firearms in connection with his 2019 admission to Samaritan Hospital;
  • Preliminarily and permanently enjoining Defendants from collecting, retaining, modifying, and/or transmitting the records and personal identifying information to NICS, the FBI, or any other law enforcement agency and third party of individuals who have been admitted to a mental health facility for emergency evaluation and observation under MHL 9.39 and discharged without conversion to MHL 9.27 or 9.37;
  • Awarding Plaintiff compensatory and economic damages against the individual defendants in at least a nominal amount; 
  • Awarding nominal damages against all Defendants; 
  • Awarding Plaintiff punitive damages against the individual defendants; 
  • A declaration that Plaintiff is the prevailing party of this action for purposes of an award of reasonable attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988;
  • Awarding reasonable statutory attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988;
  • Awarding costs and disbursements; and 
  • Such other, further, and different relief as this Court may deem just and proper.

That’s a pretty exhaustive list, but obtainable and reasonable. I’d profer to say that the list falls short in what’s being sought, but we’d be traveling into the weeds if we put my feelings into this. 

Learning about the recent news on the fate of New York’s so-called “red flag” law, and how New York Supreme Court’s April 4th opinion noted there must be real due process mechanisms built into the execution of such orders, that’s all going to easily be sewn into Richey’s arguments. The analogue is there even though the court used the MHL 94.6 as an example of what is due process. Looking at the facts of Richey’s case, as well as countless others who have suffered disabilities from New York’s law, the court should easily come to the same determination of nonconformity with the Constitution when MHL 94.6 is challenged and looked at more closely.

Richey’s story is kind of now just beginning. The important thing about this whole process is that he’s with us today to tell it. Had Richey not gotten the help he did get, we can’t say it’s a foregone conclusion that he would not be with us today, however, using his own words – at that time – he considered himself suicidal. After a person repairs themself and is no longer in any turmoil, there’s no reason to keep them stripped of their rights. Honestly, with the lack of due process and not giving the same 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendment protections afforded during criminal proceedings, a seizure should not occur in the first place.

One of the things that I talked to Richey about that I was really interested in, was how others he knew handled similar situations. I wanted to know if other people he knew in the military were equally affected, and if they would seek help knowing the potential yoke of New York’s draconian law. He told me anecdotally that there were plenty of people he knew that would not seek treatment because they were afraid of losing their civil liberties. I asked Richey to reach out to some of his old Army buddies and send me their sentiments on the topic. 

Here’s what a few other guardians of the United States had to say about seeking mental health help:

“I would avoid it because the government likes to punish people who want to better themselves.” – Cole.

“If I knew my gun rights would be taken away, no, I would not.” – Ryan

“If I knew about what happened to you and I knew that I would not be able to purchase a firearm for seeking help, even if it was voluntary, as much as I would need the help, I wouldn’t want my rights taken away.” – John, a veteran who suffers from PTSD from having engaged in “intense combat”


This is the message that New York and similar jurisdictions has sent to our nation’s heroes, punishment for doing the right thing. There are so many barriers to care when it comes to laws like MHL 94.9 in New York, as well as laws in other states like New Jersey. Progressive strongholds keep moving the bar on what disqualifies someone from owning a firearm, that eventually a common cold will create a disability.

After being acquainted with and getting to share some intimate details of Isaac Richey’s story, I certainly wish him the best. He does have a fundraising site set up for those who wish to help him out. Looking at Richey’s prayer for relief, we can see he’s seeking change in the law that will benefit everyone affected by New York’s law. Richey told me, “No one should choose between seeking mental health help and exercising their Second Amendment rights. It’s a devastating and unfair situation that I hope to bring attention to and change for others.” He further said to me, ”The state’s actions have sent a dangerous message that seeking help for mental health struggles can result in punishment, and this can only lead to more individuals suffering in silence and refusing to seek the assistance they need.”

We’ll be staying in touch with Richey and get progress reports on his journey. The next piece in this series is going to more specifically explore the barriers to care that New York and similar jurisdictions have set up through the implementation of their laws. As Richey said, these policies can lead to more people suffering.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of this series:

NY SAFE Act chronicles part 1: Meet victim Sandy and the storm created

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