New York Post-Newtown Gun Law Mostly Upheld by U.S. Judge

A New York law tightening limits on assault weapons and banning high-capacity magazines, enacted after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, was left mostly intact by a judge’s ruling on a constitutional challenge.

“New York has presented considerable evidence that its regulation of these weapons is substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest,” U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny wrote in a decision filed yesterday in Buffalo federal court.

The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, also known as the SAFE Act, was challenged by gun-rights groups that claimed many of its provisions violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Skretny did find that a requirement that guns may be loaded with only seven rounds even if they can hold 10 to be “arbitrary,” and struck down that provision.

Lawmakers in Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland and New York passed laws limiting firearm ownership after 20 children and six educators were shot to death Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The New York law toughened existing firearms regulations by, among other things, making it illegal to sell or own magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and broadening the definition of assault weapons, which are subject to tight restrictions.

‘Military Weapons’

To meet the definition now, guns must have only one feature “commonly associated with military weapons,” such as a second hand grip without a trigger, grenade launcher or a bayonet mount, according to the ruling. Two military-like features were required to meet the definition under previous state regulations, according to the order.

Organizations led by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association filed the lawsuit in March seeking to block the law to “vindicate the right of the people” of the state “to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” according to their complaint.

Gun rights groups claimed that features that define assault weapons merely make the firearms easier to use and better for self-defense, according to the opinion.

There is “no serious dispute that the very features that increase a weapon’s utility for self-defense also increase its dangerousness to the public at large,” Skretny wrote. “Studies and data support New York’s view that assault weapons are often used to devastating effect in mass shootings.”

‘Mass Shootings’

Large-capacity magazines “are used regularly in mass shootings,” including more than half of about 62 mass shootings since 1982, the judge said.

Lawyers for the gun-rights groups, Stephen P. Halbrook and Brian T. Stapleton, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment on the ruling. Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cuomo, a 56-year-old Democrat, pushed the gun bill through the legislature in January, creating some of the toughest gun regulations in the U.S. by tightening restrictions on sales and closing gaps in a 2000 ban on assault weapons, which the governor described as having “more holes than Swiss cheese.”

The case is New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Cuomo, 1:13-cv-291, U.S. District Court, Western District of New York (Buffalo).

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