Urban Lawyer

Case Notes

New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Cuomo

804 F.3d 242 (2d Cir. 2015), cert. denied sub nom. Shaw v. Malloy, 2016 WL 632684 (June 20, 2016). State laws prohibiting possession of semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines do not violate the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms because (1) the prohibitions are substantially related to the important governmental interests of public safety and crime reduction and (2) the provisions provide sufficiently definite warnings regarding the proscribed conduct so as not to be unconstitutionally vague. At issue were two appeals challenging gun-control legislation enacted by the New York and Connecticut legislatures following the 2012 mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The appellants, a combination of advocacy groups, businesses, and individual gun owners (“Gun Sup- porters”), challenged the statutes. The statutes — The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE Act) and An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety (“gun control legislation”) — prohibit the possession of certain semiautomatic assault weapons along with large capacity magazines. The appellees are the states of Connecticut and New York (“States”), in support of gun control legislation. The Gun Supporters argued that the gun control legislation violated the Second Amendment and that certain provisions were unconstitutionally vague. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stated that the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller sets forth the Second Amendment’s operative clause, which codified a pre-existing “individual right to possess and carry weapons.” 554 U.S. 570, 592 (2008). However, the court found in Heller that such right was not absolute, but rather protects only those weapons “in common use” by citizens “for lawful purposes like self-defense.” Id. at 626. The Heller decision also endorsed the “historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” Id. at 627. Apart from the broad guidelines stated above, the court found that Heller and subsequent Supreme Court cases offered little guidance for resolving future Second Amendment issues. As a result, the Second Circuit developed its own framework for determining the constitutionality of firearm restrictions. This framework involves a two-step inquiry.  

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