Three weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. last December, New York was the first state to pass stricter gun laws. A year later–with the political battle over gun control faded from national public discourse–a federal judge has upheld the majority of the state’s legislation, ruling that the expanded assault weapons ban is constitutional but striking down a provision prohibiting magazines that hold more than seven rounds.
The increased “regulation of assault weapons and its ban on high-capacity magazines,” Judge William Skretny, of U.S. District Court in Buffalo, ruled Tuesday, “further the state’s important interest in public safety and do not impermissibly infringe on… Second Amendment rights”
The section of the bill that reduced a magazine’s legal capacity from 10 rounds to seven, however, is “an arbitrary restriction” and therefore unconstitutional, Skretny stated.
The case stemmed from the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the SAFE Act, which passed through the state legislature in mid-January.
The bill, championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, broadened the definition of “assault weapon” to include any firearm that had one “military-style features,” instead of two. It strengthened existing laws aimed at keeping guns from mentally ill people, increased the penalties for illegal gun use, required the gun owners re-new their permits every five years, and made New York the first state to run instant background checks on anybody buying ammunition.
It also would have made this the first state to prohibit magazines holding more than seven rounds. This aspect of the law, though, had been flawed from the start, when gun owners pointed out that seven-round magazines were much harder to find than then ten-round variety. This led to Cuomo to announce, somewhat awkwardly, that legislators would adjust the law: you could buy 10-round magazines but you just couldn’t put more than seven bullets in them. Skretny’s decision erases that mess.
The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association will probably appeal, and the case may reach the Supreme Court. While the nation’s highest court ruled, in 2008, that individuals–and not just militias–have the right to own firearms, the body has not yet heard a case that challenged the breadth of the Second Amendment: to what extend the government can limit what types of guns and ammunition are legal.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 1, 2014