Federal judge blocks key provisions of New York's new gun-control laws

Hans Pennink/AP Photo

NEW YORK — A federal judge temporarily blocked significant portions of New York’s new gun-control laws on Thursday.

The decision presents a major setback for Gov. Kathy Hochul and city and state Democratic lawmakers, who championed the new efforts after a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer overturned restrictive local gun licensing requirements.

In a 53-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Glenn Suddaby paused a requirement that concealed carry applicants prove “good moral character” and submit years of social media for review. He also blocked implementation of some gun-free zones — including city subways and Times Square — established under the new measures.

In June, the Supreme Court said a prior licensing regime, which required applicants prove a need for self-protection, was too subjective. Suddaby said in an order that the new “good moral character” requirement passed in response was no better. It merely replaced one subjective requirement with another by “retaining (and even expanding) the open-ended discretion afforded to its licensing officers,” he wrote.

Republicans who opposed the laws cheered the decision. In a statement Thursday, state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt crowed that "Albany's political ruling class" had "parroted a false narrative that law-abiding firearm owners are the root of increasing crime in our communities."

The suit was brought by six New Yorkers holding or seeking the permits. Suddaby tossed a prior legal challenge on a technicality, even as he signaled the new laws were "unconstitutional.” Suddaby indicated Thursday that the new plaintiffs had cleared the previous technical hurdle.

The ruling temporarily blocked several gun-free zones created under the new law, but left in place restrictions on some locations — including schools, courts and polling places.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has made strengthening gun laws a campaign issue heading into a November election against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, called it “deeply disappointing that the Judge wants to limit my ability to keep New Yorkers safe and to prevent more senseless gun violence.”

“The Concealed Carry Improvement Act was carefully crafted to put in place common-sense restrictions around concealed carry permits,” she said in a statement.

The judge did not agree.

Suddaby’s order granted a longer-than-usual TRO “based on the strong showing made by Plaintiffs, and Defendants’ unpersuasive response.” The TRO lasts until Oct. 20, by which time Suddaby intends to hold a hearing considering a longer injunction.

The judge did, however, stay his order by three business days, giving the state time to ask the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to step in, the order says.

Attorney General Tish James, who is representing the state in the case, vowed an appeal.

“Today's decision comes in the wake of mass shootings and rampant gun violence hurting communities here in New York and across the country," she said in a statement. "While the decision preserves portions of the law, we believe the entire law must be preserved as enacted."