Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part X — Federal Lawsuit Filed)

This is the tenth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed), Part V (appellate briefing complete), Part VI (N.Y. Appeals Court Not Interested in Ending NYPD Corruption), Part VII (Corruption? You Can’t Prove It!), Part VIII (appeal to N.Y. high court), Part IX (N.Y. Court of Appeals won’t hear). 

Federal Gun License ComplaintIn June, New York’s highest court refused to hear my challenge to New York City’s practice of giving gun licenses only to those with the right “connections” to the government — connections being bribe money, literally being a rock star, or just having friends in the right places.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that Second Amendment rights are applicable to individuals without regards to “militia membership” in 2008, the New York Court of Appeals has plugged its ears to literally every case to come before it that asked the court to conform New York law to the Supreme Court’s mandate (as they must).

My state remedies now exhausted, I turn to the federal courts for help.  This morning, I filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the City for its refusal to allow the ordinary, law-abiding citizen to arm themselves.

Full Complaint: Corbett v. City of New York – Complaint with Exhibits (.pdf)

If you’ve been following along, many of the arguments match up with those in the New York courts.  But, there’s a couple new things.

First, there have been some good decisions in other federal courts as of recent.  On the west coast, the 9th Circuit last month struck down Hawaii’s ban on citizen gun licenses in Young v. Hawaii (.pdf).  On the east coast, the D.C. Circuit struck down the same last year in Washington D.C. in Wrenn v. D.C.  These updates may or may not persuade the 2nd Circuit that covers New York, but they definitely make it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case.

Second, I’m adding a new equal protection claim that I don’t think has ever been brought here.  “Equal protection” is a part of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires the government to treat everybody similarly unless there are really good reasons not to.  In this case, the main problem is New York’s “proper cause” requirement, which (in New York City and a handful of other counties in the state) demands that citizens show a reason greater than that of an ordinary citizen to get a license.  However, New York City exempts retired police officers from this proper cause requirement, even though there’s really no logical relationship between being a retired cop and “needing” a gun.  This brings up a classic equal protection scenario: if the NYPD wants to let its retired cops carry, it has to let me carry too.  If the court agrees, the City may have a choice between taking away guns from retirees or giving us plebs our constitutional rights — a political quagmire indeed.

The case is no. 18-CV-7022 and was assigned to U. S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla, an Obama appointee.  The City will be served today and will have 3 weeks to craft a reply.  More updates then.

48 thoughts on “Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part X — Federal Lawsuit Filed)

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  1. There are some holes in your logic though. 1) New York does not have an outright ban. Cases where bans were challeneged don’t really hold weight here. The issue is that the process in nyc is arbitrary and the state law gives too much wiggle room for local cops in all municipalities to determine who is of “good moral character” and who has “proper cause” which then results in an effective ban of not only gun carrying, gun ownership. 2) New York doesn’t want to arm it’s retired police, I believe every state allows retired police to carry. And if that’s not enough, the police can always say “After locking ppl up for 20 years, I fear for my safety and that a perp may recognize me and retaliate” I would imagine that’s proper cause. Finally, the most shacky ground here as I’ve said numerous times is carrying has not been decisively handed down as a true uninfringeable right. Home possession has and most municipalities across new york state are taking more than one year to grant people permission to purchase a pistol for home protection. NYC is the only municipality I know of in the entire country that requires a permit for a long gun as well. If carrying was a right, why has bill on national reciprocity been held up for years? Why even need a bill to establish that, if the 2nd amendment grants it? Right leaning scotus is in your favor, if the rich upper class folks in Manhattan who don’t want average joe walking around central park with a gun don’t convince them to stay out of it.

    1. The effect of NYC’s policies is an outright ban on carrying by the ordinary citizen. They literally require a need GREATER than the average citizen to show proper cause.

      Whether or not the city “wants” to arm its police retirees, one can imagine the fury of the police unions should they take away that right.

    2. “NYC is the only municipality I know of in the entire country that requires a permit for a long gun as well.”

      Try the entire state of Massachusetts. And it even applies to pepper spray.

  2. Correct on both points, however it would be a bit of a reach to say retired police don’t have a need greater than the average citizen so saying retired police can, so can I, is a flawed argument. What I meant to write was New York is not the only state that arms it’s retired police, everyone does and I don’t see how retired police have anything to do with your case.

    1. Retired police do not have to show a “need” for the license. That’s the whole reason for the equal protection angle of the case.

  3. I cannot WAIT to retire and move out of NWO York State. Hopefully the rest of amerika doesn’t become as corrupt and globalized as this disgusting freedomless hell hole.

  4. I can see your points myself. If retired cops have a right that you don’t have, that’s not equal.

    Still like to read what you are up to, even if I may not agree all the time.

    Also, is there a way to subscribe to the comments without posting a reply?

  5. MA doesn’t allow simple possession of long guns without a May Issue as well. The most egregiously the law was changed post Heller and McDonald to change the Shall Issue FID long gun license to May Issue. Completely flipping SCOTUS the bird.

  6. What I hope we gain from your hard work is that we can get rid of the good moral character nonsense which is extremely vague and leads to petty Bs like traffic infractions getting people denied and if proper cause is ruled justified, then a specific legal description of what proper cause standards are. The intentional vagueness of the NYS gun laws is what leads to the corruption and ppl without connections getting denied for illogical reasons

  7. Does NY law take care of the problem that retired LEOs include those retired because of mental problems?

    1. In theory, yes, only retired cops with a letter from the department can get the license. In practice, bad cops often negotiate that letter as a part of their early retirement package.

    1. Likely. But it’s worth fighting the good fight. As Jack Black once said, “The tyranny and the bullshits gone on too long, you old f****** shrivs who blocked its legalization, you’re banished from The Land!”

    2. Yea probably. At this point though we have several cases that will be at SCOTUS this term or next. I think they take a case finally because of the circuit split that has now widened even more due to Young v. Hawaii.

  8. Meanwhile, next door in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they require:

    a. (1) One-page application.

    b. $20.00.

    A License to Carry Firearms is valid statewide, open carry does not require a license at all, nor is any sort of license required for purchase or to keep in one’s home.

    And if national reciprocity ever makes it out of the senate, it will become law and New York (both city and state) will have a hissy-fit.

  9. In NYC And to a lesser extent NYS, the second amendment is effectively indirectly banned. What other constitutional right do you know of that is denied in advance until you get the government’s permission to exercise the right, but only to the extent that a bureaucrat allows you to exercise the right (even though you are a law abiding citizen who has no criminal record)?

    Imagine if they treated the first amendment or the right to vote the same way they treated second amendment?
    Imagine if in order to have your 4th and 8th amendment rights, you have to apply for a permit and present good cause as to why you needed those rights, and then spend hundreds in fees and deal with1 year + wait times for the chance at getting to exercise those rights. Shouldn’t it be that a law stripping someone of a constitutional right who has not been convicted of a crime, be an illegal law?

    What needs to be challenged is the permit system itself, as if you need permission to exercise a right, then you are not free to use the right, it effectively becomes a privilege that can be taken away at any time. A permit is simply a way to deny law abiding citizens of a constitutional right since it goes beyond the idea of someone needing to be convicted of a crime before rights can be taken away.

    Without challenging the entire system, you will at best get a very narrow ruling that will only apply to you, at which point, you may get your permit that will subsequently be denied a renewal, at which point you will have to start the whole process over again.

  10. @razor512 Have you read the Second Amendment? Of all the amendments, I think if you read it, you will agree that it is an extremely poorly written amendment. It could not have been more ambiguous and although I am a supporter of individual gun rights, I don’t see how one could read it and clearly derive a right to carry or even possess firearms from it. It seems to me, it is tied specifically to the right of state militias to bear arms. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” If you remove the first part before the coma, then there would be no discussion. However, with the first part being there it seems incredibly clear that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is explicitly tied to a state’s well regulated militia. Now that we have a full right leaning SCOTUS we probably will get away with it being interpreted as an individual right, but the text seems to clearly be tied to a state militia’s right and none of commenting here are part of a state’s militia. This is why states like NY have gotten away with this for so long, it was lazy and sloppy writing on the founders’ part.

    1. You have to pay attention to the commas. The part about militias is not the same as the right of the people. If the Founders intended for it to only apply to militias, they would not mention the people at all.

      Also, keep in mind people had a different way of writing back then. I used to have a link to a article that explains it by using the way things were written back then. I can’t seem to find that article anymore.

    2. Think of it like this

      “A well balanced breakfast being necessary to the start of a healthy day, the right of the people to keep and eat food shall not be infringed”

      Who has the right to the food, the breakfast or the people?

  11. I’m so glad I came across this blog. I’m very interested to see how this turns out. How can I get updates? Would starting a petition help this cause at all? I’ve been wanting to apply, but I haven’t because of this nonsense…. and because I don’t want to waste $400+ dollars. Ridiculous.

  12. Hmm.. Thanks for posting all of this. In light of recent shootings I wanted to apply for a license to carry for self defense. I see unfortunately that at this point in time it will just be a waste of my money and time. Keep up the good work and hopefully you’ll change things around here so regular citizens can feel safe again.

  13. Good luck with your case ! My name is piperpaul Albany County here in upstate New York and my Ccw permit has been sitting on the Albany County Supreme Court Judge’s desk since early October of 2018 there has to be a better way of doing this. Maybe a state agency processing the entire pistol permit application process for the entire state of New York?!

  14. Hi Jonathan Piperpaul here its now early March 2029 and I am still waiting for my response on my pistol permit application which I applied for back in October of October of 2018! I have an idea and that is we should attack the foundation of the pistol law WHICH IS THE SULLIVAN ACT THAT WAS PASSED IN EARLY 1911 or 1912 by “Big Tim Sullivan.” Sullivan was one of the most CORRUPT POLITICIANS DURING THE TAMMNEY HALL ERA and he also had SYPHILIS when he was writing his infamous gun control act! This information is based upon historical fact in which I located in copies of the New York Times during that time period! Can any 2nd amendment lawyers use that information to make a case to get the Sullivan Act repealed ? My email address would appreciate any constructive thoughts on this idea thanks!

  15. Apologies for, and warnings about, the long post… I will say at the start that I am very much a supporter of the good work that Jon Corbett is doing on behalf of ‘long fight’ for gun rights in NYC, my hometown. At the same time, I have to express my dismay at the overall national state of gun rights advocacy when it comes to the struggle for equal protection of the law (with respect to gun rights) in urban America.

    Short intro to me: politically left-of-center, card carrying member of the ACLU, pro-individual gun rights, New York City resident here. Right…. I know — sounds like I lead a parade of exactly one.
    Maybe so.

    In other words, although I am staunchly progressive in most areas, I agree with just about everything Jon Corbett argues about the unconstitutionality and insanity of gun permit restrictions in NYC. My point here is that as strange as it might first sound, in holding these seemingly contradictory allegiances I believe I am on more solidly rational and patriotic ground than either of my typical”red” or “blue” political opponents in American political debate.

    This is because the core of my passion for the 2nd Amendment is not about personal gun ownership or self defense. I own no guns and feel no need to (thankfully, as I’m not a rock star or retired cop, and I definitely lack Jon’s impressive diligence and prodigious paperwork talents). My belief in gun rights in New York City and everywhere else flows instead from the same commitments to equality, democracy, and racial and social justice that define me as a progressive. Having lived my life in this city, I think that the systematic and intentional disarming of urban poor people and people of color, and particularly poor and working class African Americans, is by far the most egregious injury to democracy and fundamental liberties resulting from the neglect of universal, individual 2nd Amendment protections in our country.

    So you would think I would be equally at home in the NRA as in the ACLU — as odd as that might sound to some. But no.


    A hint: think about why the NRA supported gun *control* measures in the 1960s and 1970s when the motive for those laws was to disarm law-abiding African American citizens and resistance organizations, including the Black Panthers. Now consider how bizarre it is that Jon Corbett is left on his own to toss his doomed, amateur hail Mary legal passes on gun freedom in the courts of the most wealthy and powerful city in the western world, while the nation’s single most powerful political lobbying juggernaut — that same NRA — is mysteriously nowhere in sight…. Too busy fighting for toy gun rights at some deep south high school or whatever, cloaking themselves with pomp and sanctimony in the flag of the founding fathers.

    If the NRA genuinely cared about the right of *every* American to bear arms, how could they possibly justify shrinking from the fight in NYC? How could they throw their (mighty, powerful, wealthy) hands up at this battle, or its equally vital corollaries across the cities of America?? Did the ACLU shy away from filing civil rights cases in the deep south in the 50s and 60s because that was ‘enemy territory?? In taking on desegregation, did the run from the fight when the majority of public sentiment was against their view of the proper exercise of constitutional protections for all citizens? Did they stick to safe territory in liberal states where they could confidently exercise their power with sympathetic politicians? Of course not. They took their troops to where the heart of the battle lay, on behalf of all Americans, regardless of class, race, color, or geography.

    Not so with the NRA, which stays in safe territory where it already controls the entire political scene, leaving nearly all of its potential urban constituencies to the mercy of police department and dogmatic local anti-gun liberals.

    So the question has to arise: what’s behind the systematic abandonment of urban advocacy and political resistance in New York City and the rest of the horrendously over-regulated cities across the country where citizens are, beyond question, most aggressively deprived of their 2nd Amendment rights? Might this have something to do with the fact that extending the 2nd Amendment to urban America would threaten to arm a very large, very non-White, very non-Republican populace from coast to coast? Is it possible that the NRA considers the 2nd Amendment to be, essentially, a guarantee of the rights of *some* Americans to bear arms but not others?

    It sure looks that way.

    This should without saying, but I’ll be emphatic to leave now doubt: yes, of course I think that white people (rural, urban, and in-between) should be able to arm and defend themselves, like all other Americans. For all of us, the right to defend our persons and property, and to resist and defend against state tyranny, is inviolable under the 2nd Amendment to the Bill of Rights. No ifs, ands, or buts

    But let’s face it. As a practical matter, there is no group or category of white people, anywhere in the country, who is currently under any threat whatsoever of being oppressed by any kind of state violence.

    The people who maintain that such threats exist — and you’ll forgive me for my bluntness — are given to a range of bizarre, stupid, and racist conspiracy theories — mostly about about the specter of an ex (Black) president and the supposedly awesome and terrifying powers of a couple of 90 year old California Democrats on a fast track out of their leadership position in the US Congress. Listen to right wing propaganda, and you’d be convinced that Obama, Pelosi and Feinstein were (still!) poised to march their liberal storm troopers like Sherman through Free America, seizing every last bullet from the hands of helpless God-fearing Americans.

    The reaction of anyone remotely sane and objective to this paranoid nonsense?


    Notwithstanding the conspiracy bubbles that persist about guns in red-state Trump America, anyone with their head screwed on remotely straight can see that the fever dreams about black helicopters and a ‘New World Order’ disarming White America were always a hysterical and idiotic delusion. We Americans love our guns even more than our cars. And barring anything very unexpected — as long as we’re White — we can be pretty darned sure no one’s ever taking them from us, God willing. The struggle for liberty is never complete, and I would never suggest we rest on our laurels. But I also believe in the people of this country and our fundamental wisdom. Our guns, like our freedoms of speech and assembly, are here to stay.

    But of course there’s always been a deadly exception to the rule of who is considered entitled to arm themselves in their own defense in the country. And this exception, not surprisingly, is the only group of Americans who — unlike their politically powerful and well defended gun-owning White counterparts — have an *actual,* eminently valid, non-paranoid, reason to fear the threat of potentially lethal state violence on a daily basis in in the United States. I’m talking, of course, about African Americans — a group who have experienced nearly 500 years of such state-based violence and terrorism on this continent To this very day, black people across the country are subjected to routine violations of their basic constitutional rights, including the shockingly routine disregard for their right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Who could possibly have more valid recourse to the 2nd Amendment than black people?

    Also, as a fascinating thought experiment, I have often discussed with black friends how fast these same violations might end, if officers of the state had to ask themselves — as they do in similar circumstances with all other groups of people in in all other quarters of the country — “how should I engage these citizens, with caution and respect, given that there is a possibility that they are lawfully armed and capable of defending themselves against unwarranted or unlawful intrusion?”

    It is not surprising that the NYPD does not wish to impose such a burden (of respect for the privacy, dignity and right to presumption-of-innocence of NYC’s black citizens) on itself. That is the nature of the state and of state power, and precisely the reason the 2nd Amendment.

    But it remains an appalling disappointment to me, as a gun rights advocate and a passionate believer in our constitution, that the issue appears to matter little to the foremost group entrusted with fighting for such protections.

    Perhaps if this situation were to change, I could become a charter, dual member of the NRA along with the ACLU. But given the deep roots of NRA ideology in some of the worst strains of our national historical legacy, I’m not holding my breath.

  16. Hello, Mr. Corbett.

    Any update? Were you denied here and, if so, have you appealed to a higher court? Just curious since it has been a while. Thanks.


  17. So what happened? I wish you luck for all of us. I also read that many were successful by using something called the moonshine passport method and giving notice to the nypd computers.

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