Federal Court Upholds NY SAFE Act Except 7-Bullet Limit
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The U.S. District Court upheld most of the New York SAFE Act, which was challenged in a case filed against the state by several gun advocacy groups, including the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and the Westchester County Firearms Owners Association.
The decision, written by Judge William M. Skretny, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Buffalo, stated that most of the NY SAFE Act was constitutional, except for the seven-round limit on ammunition in semiautomatic rifles and three provisions that the judge said were too vague for residents to understand.
Using the decision from the case District of Columbia v. Heller as the base, Skretny noted how “the Supreme Court found that while citizens have the right to ‘keep and bear arms,’ as per the Second Amendment, that the right was not unlimited.”
According to Skretny, the NY SAFE Act as a whole does not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
However, the court found that the seven-round limit was “largely an arbitrary restriction that impermissibly infringes on the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”
Additionally the court found that three clauses must be stricken from the act.
“Further, three aspects of the law — the ‘and if’ clause of N.Y. Penal Law § 265.36, the references to muzzle ‘breaks’ in N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(a)(vi), and the regulation with respect to pistols that are ‘versions’ of automatic weapons in N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(c)(viii) — must be stricken because they do not adequately inform an ordinary person as to what conduct is prohibited,” the decision read.
The first of those provisions, the “and if” clause, reads: “It shall be unlawful for a person to knowingly possess a large capacity ammunition feeding device manufactured before (Sept. 13, 1994), and if such person lawfully possessed such large capacity feeding device before the effective date of … this section, that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than ten rounds of ammunition.” The section was intended to ban magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The judge ruled that the wording of the “and if” clause in the middle of that sentence is too confusing.
The second provision, the reference to “muzzle breaks,” is in a part of the law that lists characteristics of assault weapons, such as folding stocks, flash suppressors and “muzzle breaks.” That is simply a typographical error for “muzzle brakes,” a device that attaches to the end of the barrel and reduces the rifle’s recoil.
The third provision, the reference to “versions” of automatic pistols, is in a section of the law that defines a semiautomatic pistol as an assault weapon if it is “a semiautomatic version of an automatic rifle, shotgun or firearm.” Again, the judge ruled that the language is too confusing for people to know what was being banned.
Advocates and opponents of the SAFE Act criticized the ruling.
“The judge’s ruling on the seven bullet limit missed the mark,” said a statement released by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “Under the judge’s ruling, there is no question that New York can regulate the size of a magazine based on its determination of how to improve public safety. Thus, it does not make any sense that it could not likewise determine the appropriate number of bullets.”
The statement continued, “In fact, a bipartisan majority of the Legislature determined that seven bullets was the appropriate number, which is consistent with New York hunting law that a hunter may not have more than six bullets loaded in his gun at a time. It is difficult to argue, as Judge Skretny does, that the seven-round limit is ‘arbitrary’ since New York City has a five-bullet limit and the federal government, before the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, imposed a 10-bullet limit. We expect the attorney general will appeal this portion of the ruling and we look forward to it being overturned upon appeal.”
State Sen. Greg Ball, who opposed passage of the SAFE Act, said the decision on the seven-bullet limit was a “huge win for our constitutional freedoms and for the Second Amendment community.”
Ball (R-Patterson) said the entire law should be rescinded.
“This bill was written with the saving of one, and only one, life in mind – the political life of a governor who wants to be president,” Ball said. “Levelheaded professionals, including those within the law enforcement community, have pointed out the sheer idiocy of enforcing this political ploy. The entire law is an affront to our Second Amendment and our constitutional freedoms. Passed in the dark of night, this law was rushed through the Legislature and did not go through the typical airing which would have allowed the public and my fellow legislators to see the obvious flaws in the wording and structure of the bill.”