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 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Attorney

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proper cause

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part XIII — No Help from Second Circuit)

This is the thirteenth 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), Part X (Federal Lawsuit Filed), Part XI (Federal Court Refuses Challenge), Part XII (U.S. Court of Appeals). 

Total Time Spent So Far: 79 hours
Total Money Spent So Far: $2,296

In July last year, I filed a notice of appeal of the U.S. District Court’s decision that New York City’s gun licensing scheme was constitutionally sound.  Federal court appeals are heard by the appellant filing a brief, the appellee filing an opposing brief, and the appellant gets an opportunity to file a reply brief.  Often, but not always, oral arguments are heard, wherein the parties get a short period of time (typically, 5 – 15 minutes each) to persuade the judges hearing the case and to answer their questions.

Oral arguments were ordered in this case and heard on June 3rd, 2020.  Getting the Second Circuit to overturn longstanding precedent regarding New York gun laws was always a long shot, so I prepared for a somewhat hostile reception.  The judges randomly assigned, however, were two Trump appointees and 1 Bush 43 appointee — a favorable selection for a gun rights case.  Because of coronavirus, the arguments were telephonic, and a recording is available from the court (.mp3).

Alas, despite the favorable panel selection, the judges apparently had made up their mind before hearing arguments, as they put out a  5-page opinion the next day (.pdf) affirming the judgment of the court below.  The judges did not reach the merits of the case (the constitutional issue).  Instead, they agreed with the city that because of the way I presented my case in state court, I could not challenge again in federal court.

Let me try to explain.  Some cases can be heard in both state and federal court — gun issues are one of them.  However, if your case is heard in state court, it generally can only be heard in federal court if the state court doesn’t provide the same type of remedy (in the legal world, we describe this issue using the Latin phrase “res judicata“).  Gun license challenges in New York courts (called “Article 78” proceedings) typically only come with the remedy of ordering the issuance of the license or a new administrative hearing, while in federal court I can ask for money for the infringement of my rights.  So, I should have been good.  The problem is that when I asked for the review of my gun license issue in state court, I also asked them to review their refusal to provide me with records I requested. The federal court held that this type of case allows for money damages also. In other words, if I had filed 2 separate cases — one challenging the gun license denial and the other challenging the records refusal — my case could be re-reviewed in federal court, but since I did both at once, no dice.

As far as I can tell, this is the first case in which such a distinction has been made, and in my opinion creates an unjust result: there should be no penalty for saving the courts time by asking them to hear two matters at once.  Needless to say, it leaves my court battle over my 2015 gun license application dead, as although I can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is highly unlikely that they have interest in hearing such a case.

But, the fight is not over.  Stay tuned for Part XIV over the next month or two, in which we explore the contours of New York’s “proper cause” requirement. 🙂

Peruta v. San Diego — Another Side-Step of Whether We Have the Right to “Bear” Arms

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In preparation for my lawsuit as part of my exposé on gun rights in NYC (Part I, Part II), I’ve been watching Peruta v. San Diego.  The reason is that the federal courts of appeals, divided into 13 circuits that each have jurisdiction over a different chunk of the United States, have been struggling to determine to what extent the Second Amendment (“…the right of the People to keep and bear arms…”) guarantees the right to not just keep (own guns in your home), as the Supreme Court made clear is covered by the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), but the right to bear arms — that is, the right to carry them around with you.

Here in New York, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that to whatever extent the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, that right is not “fundamental” and is therefore subject to any restriction that furthers a government interest, subsequently concluding that a state may restrict the right to bear arms to those who show a “good reason” to carry them.  Kachalsky v. Cacace, 701 F.3d 81 (2nd Cir. 2012).

However, in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, legendary judge Richard Posner wrote the majority opinion invalidating an Illinois statute that required a “good reason.”  Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012).  And, judges in several other circuits have suggested, without ruling, that they would lean the same.

Peruta was another court upholding the right to bear arms, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  But, after a 3-judge panel upheld that right, the other judges in the court voted to rehear it en banc — in front of 11 judges — and last month overturned the 3-judge panel and allowed California to require a “good reason” before issuing a carry license.

The biggest problem with Peruta is that the judges, in their 190 page (!!) opinion entirely side-stepped the question.  You see, courts have been fairly consistent in ruling that a state may restrict open-carry, or restrict concealed carry, but they have not typically allowed a state to restrict both.  In other words, the general rule, save for the Kachalsky aberration in the 2nd Circuit, was that a state must guarantee your right to bear arms, but can tell you whether you must conceal your handgun or make it visible.  And so, the Peruta en banc court once again said that a state may ban concealed carry without deciding whether it may simultaneously ban open carry.  The attorneys in Peruta clearly argued the point that they are seeking the right to bear arms (either open or concealed), and felt compelled to spend 190 pages without ruling on that point.  (Peruta’s attorneys have moved the court to re-hear arguments and consider the true question, a motion likely to be declined.)

In fairness, of those 190 pages, many of them are written by 4 judges of the 11 that dissented from the majority opinion, and given the split in this case, plus the circuit split (2nd & 9th Circuits vs. 7th Circuit), the Supreme Court may hear it (and Peruta’s lawyers almost certainly will ask them to).  I have to ponder whether I want to file my case in New York before that happens or right now.  I shall give it some thought.

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