Over the last year I’ve documented the process of applying for a license to carry a handgun in New York City. Part I described the initial application process, requiring an incredible amount of paperwork, money, and time, and the scheduling of an in-person interview. Part II described the interview, as well as the eventual “NOTICE OF DISAPPROVAL” that ended up at my door, letting me know that there was no problem with my background, but I simply did not give a good enough “reason” for them to allow me to exercise my Second Amendment rights.
For Part III, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve taken up the fight in court with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the City of New York’s interpretation of state laws that effectively allow the NYPD to deny a license whenever it wants. I’ve additionally challenged the NYPD’s refusal to fulfill a Freedom of Information Law request, as well as 3 of the most absurd questions on the application form.
Beginning where we left off in Part II, after receiving the rejection letter, I filed an appeal with the NYPD itself, asking them to reconsider the decision of the commanding officer of the licensing division, Deputy Inspector Michael Endall, to deny my license. I should really say the former commanding officer of the licensing division — about 2 weeks after he signed my rejection letter, he was removed from his post after a federal investigation uncovered that his subordinates were accepting bribes in exchange for approving gun license applications. At least one officer under D.I. Endall’s command has so far pled guilty to corruption charges, and another will face trial shortly.
Departmental drama aside, as you can guess, I received a reply to my administrative appeal by Director of Licensing Division Thomas M. Prasso telling me to pound sand. As best I can gather, the division has an officer head and a civilian head, and D.I. Endall was the former while Mr. Prasso was the latter. This letter sets the clock ticking for a state court challenge, giving me 4 months to file what New York calls an “Article 78 Petition,” so named after the section of the law that allows people to challenge the final decisions of administrative agencies, so long as they do so within 4 months. (Note that I could file in federal court directly, since my federal constitutional rights are in play, but let’s give the state a chance to correct itself first.)
Corbett v. City of New York IV – Petition & Complaint (.pdf), Case No. 158273/2016
There are 3 separate challenges within this lawsuit:
- First and foremost, NY Penal Law § 400.00(2)(f) specifies that a license should be issued when an applicant shows “proper cause.” The City of New York (as well as Westchester County, FWIW) interprets this to mean “a good reason that we approve of” rather than “filled out an application and is not disqualified.” In particular, the city requires that applicants show a greater need than that of the general public (!!), so “I want to defend myself” is not good enough while “I want to defend myself because I regularly carry around bags of diamonds” probably is. Virtually all of the rest of the state interprets this the other way, granting licenses to individuals who are U.S. Citizens with clean criminal records. The “proper cause” requirement, as interpreted by New York City, is not only unconstitutional (imagine having to convince the government that you had “proper cause” to speak freely, practice your religion, say “no” to a search without a warrant, etc.), it leads to decisions that are arbitrary at best, and influenced by corruption as we’ve seen above at worst.
- Second, I challenged 3 questions in particular. These three questions ask if you’ve ever been fired from a job, ever used painkillers or sedatives (under a doctor’s orders during/after surgery counts), and if you’ve ever testified under oath anywhere in the country. Saying “yes” to any of these questions extends the application process, requiring you to explain yourself. These three questions are highly invasive, not protected by, e.g, HIPAA confidentiality requirements, not evaluated by any professional qualified to do so (there are certainly no doctors in the NYPD Licensing Division qualified to say if your prescription regimen would make you unfit to have a gun), and are generally irrelevant for any purpose other than giving the NYPD an excuse — not a reason — to deny the license applications of good, qualified citizens.
- Third, after my application was denied, I sent the NYPD a Freedom of Information Law request (Exhibit C of the petition above), asking for every application for a gun license in a 3 month period with all personally identifying information redacted. My intent here was to see whether the NYPD was consistent when considering applications or was granting preference to VIPs. The NYPD said that they would not fulfill my request because doing so would be invasive to privacy and would interfere with law enforcement (Exhibit D of the petition). How releasing these records could possibly do either of those things is a mystery to me, and therefore I’ve asked the court to review it.
I’m hopeful that this petition may push the NYPD to a more reasonable licensing scheme. Despite people telling me that the NYPD’s rules are challenged all the time, I wasn’t able to find a challenge to the “proper cause” requirement in this state in the last 5 years, and never has the proper cause requirement been challenged in the context of the state’s ban on open carry + the Supreme Court’s decision that the right to bear arms is applicable to individuals and assertable against the states. Whether you think we need more or fewer guns in this country, I hope you’ll agree that the licensing scheme should at least be fair, and to that extent support my reform against the NYPD’s “licenses only if we want to give them” scheme.
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