U.S. Supreme Court lets New York enforce new gun restrictions

FILE PHOTO: A Times Square Gun Free Zone sign hangs from a light pole on 6th avenue in New York City
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By Nate Raymond and Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed New York to enforce a Democratic-backed gun control law adopted after the justices last year struck down the state's limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home in a landmark ruling that expanded gun rights.

The justices rejected a request by six members of the firearms rights group Gun Owners of America to throw out a lower court's decision allowing the law to be enforced. U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby in October blocked enforcement of much of the law but the Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December put that decision on hold while the state pursues an appeal.

No justice publicly dissented from the decision, but Justice Samuel Alito, writing for himself and fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, described the court's action as procedural "rather than expressing any view on the merits of the case."

Wednesday's action may not be the last time the Supreme Court addresses New York's new gun law. Alito and Thomas noted that other challenges to the state's law are currently on a fast-track in the 2nd Circuit and invited plaintiffs to return to the Supreme Court if that appeals court does not expedite the proceedings in their case as well.

An official from Gun Owners of America, Erich Pratt, called Alito's statement "reassuring," adding: "We look forward to continuing the fight against New York's draconian law."

New York state Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, praised the court's decision to keep the law in effect.

"Too many New Yorkers are plagued by gun violence, and we know that basic gun laws help save lives every day," James said.

Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law the Concealed Carry Improvement Act on July 1, a week after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling against a New York concealed carry permit restriction.

The decision declared for the first time that the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment protects an individual's right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. The ruling also required courts to evaluate if gun restrictions were "consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation," making it harder to regulate guns in a country where mass shootings are commonplace.

The new law expanded who could seek a license to carry a handgun outside the home but required applicants to establish that they possess "good moral character," undergo additional training and submit information concerning their social media accounts and people with whom they live.

It also established a long list of "sensitive locations" including churches, medical offices, public parks and theaters where carrying a gun would be a felony even for license holders. New York City's popular Times Square is one of these locations.

The plaintiffs challenged the law as a violation of the Second Amendment. Suddaby, a judicial appointee of Republican former President George W. Bush, blocked enforcement of much of it, citing "unprecedented constitutional violations."

The judge decided that New York could not compel people applying for a gun license to disclose the handles of their social media accounts or the names and contact details of everyone with whom they live, nor would applicants have to prove their "good moral character."

Suddaby also decided that the state could not ban guns in theaters, bars and restaurants, parks, airports and other public places, though bans could remain in place in schools, courthouses and polling stations. Suddaby blocked enforcement of a provision making it a felony to carry firearms on private property without the property owner's express consent.

At the request of James, the 2nd Circuit issued a stay freezing Suddaby's order while New York pursued its appeal.

Separately, a federal judge on Monday blocked parts of a recently passed New Jersey law restricting the locations where people in that state may carry guns.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)