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 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Attorney

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proper cause

N.Y. Gov. Hochul Sued Over Requirement to Hand Over Social Media Accounts to Apply for Gun License

For the last century, New York’s “proper cause” requirement required gun license applicants to demonstrate a greater need than the average citizen in order to carry a gun. When last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, 597 U.S. ____ (2022), explicitly holding that the Constitution provides an individual right to carry firearms outside of the home and that the state may not ban the ordinary, law-abiding citizen from doing so, it overturned that proper cause requirement and made clear that the states cannot seek to disenfranchise its citizens en masse.

In response, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul convened a special session of the legislature to try to keep guns out of the hands of as many New Yorkers as possible, ignoring the Supreme Court’s mandate that the right to bear arms be respected, and among many other new requirements, the legislature passed a rule that requires all applicants to disclose every social media account they have used in the last 3 years.

This morning I filed suit against Gov. Hochul and this new law, explaining it in terms I think she can understand and, in fact, should make clear to anyone, regardless of what position they take on gun control, that this is the worst possible solution:

An applicant who has had an abortion and has used the anonymity of social media to seek comfort is now outed, as is the gay person struggling to come out to their family. An applicant with an “Only Fans” who sells nude pictures of themselves online would now be required to let police officers take a look at their body. The person who uses social media to document police misconduct, too, must de-anonymize themselves, as is the supporter of Black Lives Matter or any other marginalized political group.

In other words, the government has no business in our social media. My lawsuit also challenges a character reference requirement and a training requirement that are both designed not to ensure applicants are “good guys,” but simply to ensure that as few as possible are able to jump through enough hoops to get a license.

The case is Corbett v. Hochul, 22-CV-5867 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part XIV — Supreme Court Strikes Down Proper Cause)

This is the fourteenth 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), Part XIII (No Help from Second Circuit). 

Total Time Spent So Far: 88 hours
Total Money Spent So Far: $2,744

Before the pandemic, I published 13 parts of a series on what it is like for an ordinary, law-abiding citizen to obtain a permit to carry a gun in New York City, in light of state law that requires one to demonstrate “proper cause” (in other words, a reason you need a gun greater than that of the average citizen) before such a license will issue. We left off with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declining to reach the merits of my case because, they wrote, that a state court had already adjudicated the matter so they didn’t have to.

I had planned to re-apply and then re-file in federal court without starting in state court, but coronavirus happened and pandemic-related cases ended up dominating my time. In the meantime, however, I looked at how one could qualify for “proper cause.” Regularly carrying around large amounts of money was one way, so I started documenting whenever I had large amounts of cash. Running or working for a security company was another way, so I took and passed New York’s exam required as a prerequisite to starting such a company. I ended up re-filing my application earlier this year, but it appears we’ll never find out if I reached a level that would be sufficiently “proper” in the eyes of the NYPD Licensing Division, as today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the proper cause requirement in NYSPRA v. Bruen. The high court held, as was obvious, that you cannot parse the word “bear” in “the right to keep and bear arms” without concluding that the amendment provides for outside-of-home rights.

New York officials are predictably apoplectic. Gov. Kathy Hochul took to Twitter to call the decision “reckless.” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine took to Twitter to flat-out lie, alleging that the decision struck down the requirement to get a permit. I’ve corrected Mark several times when he has made this statement in the past, and he continues to repeat it, possibly not understanding that if a citizen reasonably relies on that statement and carries a gun without a license, they may be able to use his post in defense of a gun charge. But the fact of the matter is that all of the criminals already have their guns, and law-abiding citizens with carry licenses are among the most crime-free group in the country, so there is no reason to expect an increase in violence.

I was told when I submitted my new app earlier this year that it would take 9 months (!!) to even assign my app to an officer. I will certainly update this series when I hear back.

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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