Attorney General James Defends New York State’s Gun Licensing Protection Law at Supreme Court

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today released the following statement in anticipation of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, where the plaintiffs seek to overturn a New York law governing the carrying of firearms outside the home:

“While communities across the nation continue to suffer senseless gun violence, the burden of protecting Americans from mass shootings falls on states. New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, but guns do not stop working as they cross the threshold of another state’s border, which is why our gun licensing laws are necessary. This year alone, the United States has already seen over 600 mass shootings and more than 37,000 individuals have died as a result of gun violence. We are now in the Supreme Court, defending our right to prevent New York from becoming the next community devastated by gun violence. Hundreds of years of history support New York’s efforts to limit gun violence and protect public spaces. This is about protecting New Yorkers’ lives.”

NYSRPA vs Bruen 2021

WATCH VIDEO: Attorney General James delivers remarks on today’s Supreme Court
arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

In March 2019, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (NYSRPA) and two individuals sued New York state in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, claiming that New York’s Sullivan Law of 1913 infringed upon their Second Amendment rights. The law only allows individuals to carry concealed handguns in public upon meeting certain eligibility criteria and a showing of “proper cause.” 

After the suit was filed, the Office of the Attorney General successfully moved to dismiss the lawsuit, which was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The NYSRPA and the two individuals then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case. Attorney General James filed her brief in the case in September.

In today’s arguments, Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood will argue the long history — going back hundreds of years — of governments being allowed to regulate firearms in their jurisdictions in an effort to protect public safety. Plaintiffs seek to have the unrestricted ability to carry a firearm anywhere in public, but the Second Amendment does have limitations, mainly in line with giving states the authority to pass laws that regulate the carrying of firearms in public spaces.

A wide range of groups submitted amicus briefs in this matter, including state and local governments; elected officials; the American Bar Association; the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Medical Association; Americans Against Gun Violence; Amnesty International USA; the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City; the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Everytown for Gun Safety; the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; the League of Women Voters; March For Our Lives; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense & Educational Fund; the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; the National League of Cities; the National Urban League; the New York Civil Liberties Union; the New York County Lawyers Association; the Partnership for New York City; Prosecutors Against Gun Violence; Students Demand Action; the U.S. Conference of Mayors; the Violence Policy Center; former government officials from both sides of the aisle, including elected officials, judges, presidential appointees, national security officials, and others; former major city police chiefs; public health researchers and social scientists; criminal law professors; educational institutions; English and American historians; and religious groups; among others.

“In the midst of an epidemic of deadly gun violence, this is a critical case that should affirm the ability of states and localities to protect public safety and prevent crime via sensible gun safety laws,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “New York’s law has worked well for over 100 years and the data, common sense, case law, and the Constitution argue for upholding it. In places like New York, allowing a right to concealed carry weapons in our subways, crowded streets, airports, and more is a formula for more violence, death, and mayhem that would put the public and our police officers at unacceptable risk. I wish the attorney general well in making the arguments. Licensing who gets to carry deadly fire arms in public places is a legitimate power that has long been held to be consistent with the Constitution and I hope the Supreme Court continues to uphold this vital precedent.”

“The gun violence epidemic in America claims more than 100 lives a day and threatens our democratic freedom,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “There is compelling evidence that people are safer when responsible gun ownership provisions are enshrined into law, and thanks to the efforts of the state Legislature, New York has some of the strongest gun safety laws in the country. I’m proud to have joined more than 150 of my colleagues in an amicus brief supporting Attorney General James as her office defends New York’s law that restricts concealed handguns in public in the Supreme Court, and fights to protect states’ legislative authority to enact reasonable limits on carrying firearms in public that keep people safe. It is essential that the judicial branch continues to respect the authority of legislatures, especially when Americans’ lives are on the line.” 

“Gun violence in our communities is a growing problem, and it could get worse if this case is decided incorrectly,” said New York City Corporation Counsel Georgia M. Pestana. “We must defend New York state’s common sense permitting. The NYPD’s ability to carefully screen people who apply for conceal-carry licenses based on a concrete need keeps us safe. Courts across the nation have consistently upheld the right of state and local governments to enact gun licensing regulations tailored to their specific public-safety needs, and we urge the court to do so here.”

“Physicians have a unique perspective on the compelling need to uphold New York state’s concealed carry law,” said Gerald E. Harmon, president, American Medical Association. “Day after day, physicians witness the pain, trauma, and suffering from gun violence, and care for the victims by treating their wounds, paralysis, colostomies, brain injuries, depression, chronic infections, and post-traumatic stress. Informed by physician experience and scientific research, it is the conviction of the American Medical Association that New York state must be able to respond to the epidemic of firearm violence by enacting and enforcing appropriate and constitutional concealed carry laws.”

“The Supreme Court has held that an individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense is subject to regulations that protect ‘sensitive places,’ said Reverend Ian T. Douglas, bishop, Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and co-convener, Bishops United Against Gun Violence Network. “Houses of worship are just such places, and the state has a right and a duty to establish regulations that protect them.”

“The stakes in this case could not be higher,” said Kris Brown, president, Brady United Against Gun Violence. “We hope the justices protect the longstanding right of Americans to enact the strong public safety laws they want and need to protect them from gun violence. The right to bear arms does not override the fundamental right to live, or to self-government.”

“The data shows that increased carrying of guns in public is associated with increased gun violence,” said Tim Carey, law & policy staff attorney, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. “The court should uphold New York’s law by focusing on the evidence-informed risks of public firearm carrying and possession. Gun violence is a public health issue and like all public health issues, it is important to consider hard data and other evidence-based factors when weighing a decision of this magnitude.”

“When Jesus, quoting the Hebrew prophets, said, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ he understood the importance of safe spaces set apart for the worship of God and coming together as a human family,” said Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church. “We stand in solidarity with people of faith who have suffered the trauma of gun violence within their walls, and we call upon the court to uphold sensible gun laws that would increase the security of all communities — which includes our church communities.”

“Houses of worship are particularly vulnerable to individuals driven to mass murder by racial, ethnic, and religious hatred,” said Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, Episcopal Church. “The mass murders at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015, and at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 made that tragically clear. It is essential that state and municipal governments retain the ability to pass legislation that will keep firearms out of the hands of people who wish to commit such heinous crimes.”

“New York’s position in this case is supported by hundreds of years of history, by a robust body of social science, and by a broad range of legal experts from across the ideological spectrum,” said Eric Tirschwell, executive director, Everytown Law. “If the Supreme Court ignores all of this and throws out New York’s law or upends the way that courts interpret the Second Amendment, it would have grave consequences, particularly at a time when states and cities are grappling with increased violence. The stakes are truly high.” 

“The justices should not decide this case without careful consideration of the threat that concealable weapons pose to national security and public safety,” said Mary McCord, executive director, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “Foreign terrorist organizations and domestic violent extremists have repeatedly capitalized on the country’s lax gun laws to commit mass shootings and other acts of political violence.”

“The LGBTQ+ community — particularly transgender and LGBTQ+ people of color — is disproportionately impacted and harmed by gun violence,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Sweeping away sensible gun safety regulations would further endanger the lives of LGBTQ+ people who are more likely to be targeted for a hate crime than any other group. We hope that after the Supreme Court hears this case, the court upholds the ability of states to enact sensible gun safety regulations and issues a decision that protects people’s lives, safety, and wellbeing.”

“This decision is going to impact me for the rest of my life,” said Tabitha Escalante, judicial advocacy associate, March For Our Lives, and a student advocate at Harvard University. “The stakes here couldn’t be higher: If the NRA gets its way in this case, we will pay for it with our lives. Young people and children will grow up in its shadow, just like I’ve grown up in the shadow of lockdowns and mass shootings in schools, houses of worship, concerts, and wherever life happens. We can’t let that happen.”

“New York physicians are on the front lines every day protecting public health and treating avoidable injuries, deaths, and mental anguish,” said Dr. Joseph Sellers, president, Medical Society of the State of New York. “The Medical Society of the State of New York believes that this case raises important issues regarding the ability of state and local governments to regulate crucial public health matters within its own borders. We urge the Supreme Court to uphold New York state’s law.”

“Armed domestic abusers pose a serious danger to their victims and their communities,” said Ruth M. Glenn, president and CEO, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “While categorical possession prohibitors disarm many adjudicated abusers, active court records are not always sufficient to identify dangerous abusers — that often requires local knowledge about an individual’s abusive history. Ninety-four percent of law enforcement responses to domestic violence incidents do not result in a conviction, despite sufficient evidence. Law enforcement knows who these people are. The Supreme Court must not put survivors of domestic violence in danger by restricting states’ ability to protect their communities.”

“NYCLA supports the state’s position in upholding New York’s gun laws, which protect all New Yorkers, including lawyers, judges, and those in contact with the legal system,” said Vince Chang, president, New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA). “Any weakening of the existing protections threatens public safety. Times Square should not become the O.K. Corral.”

“New York’s gun carrying licensing regime is fully justified under any constitutional standard of review,” said John Donahue, Carlsmith law professor, Stanford Law School. “The state has a compelling interest in protecting the health and safety of the public. And, there is a large body of empirical support for the conclusion that broad increases in the right to carry concealed handguns are associated with substantial increases in gun thefts, higher levels of gun carrying by criminals, and, overall, increases in violent crime and homicides.”

“New York’s law allows law enforcement officials to exercise discretion in issuing permits to carry concealed handguns,” said Kristen Rand, government affairs director, Violence Policy Center (VPC). “The ability to deny permits to potentially dangerous applicants is absolutely necessary to help prevent tragedies, including mass shootings, as demonstrated by the incidents compiled in the VPC’s Concealed Carry Killers project.”

“Protection from gun violence is an internationally guaranteed human right under treaties binding on the United States,” said Aaron Fellmeth, Dennis S. Karjala professor of law, Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, whose collaborators represent Amnesty International USA and the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute. “Because the U.S. Congress chronically fails to fulfill its obligations under international law, state laws, like New York’s, play a critical role in guarding the human rights to life and personal security.”

“The leading empirical scientific evidence demonstrates that laws like New York state’s firearm licensing regime save lives, while states with more permissive ‘right-to-carry’ regimes suffer from increased rates of homicide and violent crime,” said Lisa Vicens, partner, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, whose firm represented a coalition of prominent social science researchers. “Protecting the right of the people of New York to enact suitable firearm regulations appropriately values the important governmental interest of promoting public safety and accords the appropriate deference to New York’s state Legislature.”

“No citizen should face intimidation or have their fundamental right to vote undermined,” said Adam Gershenson, partner, Cooley LLP, whose firm represented the League of Women Voters. “Cooley is proud to support this important work to ensure all citizens can safely participate in the electoral process without the fear of violence.”

“We are proud to represent members of the business community in opposing an unfettered constitutional right to carry concealed firearms,” said Scott Edelmen and Avi Weitzman, partners, Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP, whose firm represented a coalition of businesses. “Any such right will greatly increase violence nationwide and impose serious costs, risks, and liabilities for businesses in rural and urban communities alike. States and local communities must be permitted to continue crafting common sense gun safety regulations that keep their communities safe and economies thriving.”

“History and tradition make this an easy case,” said Joshua Matz, partner, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, whose firm represented the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “For centuries, courts have held that people cannot resort to armed violence whenever they want to do so. There are well established limits on when self-defense is allowed — and those limits powerfully support New York’s modest regulation of concealed carry permits. In addition, the plaintiffs’ startling argument in this case risks undermining core constitutional freedoms. As we all know, rights of prayer, speech, and assembly cannot flourish at gunpoint. The Constitution does not leave us powerless against deadly weapons. It does not condemn us to a world in which armed private violence — and the threat of such violence — follows us wherever we go. The Supreme Court should confirm that important point in upholding New York’s law.” 

“The framers of our Constitution intended the people and their democratically elected legislatures to decide where and when to permit the carry of firearms in public, as they have done for centuries,” said former federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Richard Bernstein from their op-ed in The New York Times. “For the justices to begin deciding for the people exactly where and when a person has a right to carry a handgun in public would be to establish the court as essentially a National Review Board for Public-Carry Regulations, precisely the kind of constitutional commandeering of the democratic process that conservatives and conservative jurists have long lamented in other areas of the law, such as abortion. It would be hypocritical for this conservative court to assume what essentially would be a legislative oversight role over public-carry rights, when conservatives on and off the court have for almost 50 years roundly criticized the court for assuming that same role over abortion rights. This conservative Supreme Court would be wise, not to mention true to its conservative principles, to leave these decisions for the people and their elected representatives to make — as the framers of our Constitution intended.”

In the past, Attorney General James has repeatedly fought to ensure that New York state has the right to protect its residents from gun violence — filing a number of amicus briefs defending states’ gun safety laws; suing the Trump Administration for making dangerous 3D-printed gun files more accessible on the internet; taking action against the companies behind a number of websites selling online incomplete weaponry pieces to New Yorkers that could be easily assembled into illegal assault weapons, otherwise known as ghost guns; and taking more than 2,600 firearms off the streets through dozens of gun buyback events and other efforts.

Today’s argument before the Supreme Court will be delivered by Solicitor General Underwood. On the briefs were Deputy Solicitor General Anisha S. Dasgupta and Assistant Solicitors General Josepha M. Spadola and Eric Del Pozo.

 

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