Judge strikes down recent NYC rules restricting gun licensing as unconstitutional

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday struck down recent provisions in New York City’s gun restrictions as unconstitutional, saying officials have been allowed too much discretion to deny gun permits to people deemed “not of good moral character.”

Judge John P. Cronan in Manhattan said in a written ruling that the “magnitude of discretion” afforded to city gun licensing officials under facets of the city's administrative code violated the Constitution's 2nd and 14th amendments.

In particular, the judge cited provisions empowering officials to evaluate an applicant's “good moral character” and whether “good cause exists for the denial” of gun permits.

The ruling added the city to the growing number of municipalities nationwide whose gun restrictions have been struck down after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2022 found that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.

The Supreme Court’s so-called Bruen decision, which struck down a New York gun law, was the high court’s first major gun decision in over a decade. It has led to lower courts striking down various gun laws and prompted the Supreme Court earlier this year to agree to decide whether judges are going too far in striking down restrictions on firearms.

The judge said he was staying the effect of his ruling until midnight Thursday to give the city time to appeal.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed last year by Joseph Srour, who was denied a permit to possess rifles and shotguns in his home by officials who cited prior arrests, bad driving history and alleged false statements on applications.

Cronan wrote that the case was “not about the ability of a state or municipality to impose appropriate and constitutionally valid regulations governing the issuance of firearm licenses and permits."

“Rather,” he said, “the provisions fail to pass constitutional muster because of the magnitude of discretion afforded to city officials in denying an individual their constitutional right to keep and bear firearms," and because the city failed to show that unabridged discretion is grounded in the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.

He said notices that Srour received from the New York Police Department's gun licensing division “are not models of clarity in explaining the precise legal grounds for denying his applications to possess firearms.”

The regulations that Cronan found to be unconstitutional have since been amended and the judge said he was not yet ruling on the wording of the new provisions.

The city did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Amy Bellantoni, Srour's attorney, said in a text message that Cronan's decision resulted from “rock solid constitutional analysis.”

She called it “a major win for self protection in New York City.”

In written arguments in February asking Cronan to rule against Srour, city lawyers said his gun permit application was denied because he “lacked candor" by omitting two prior arrests and prosecutions, one for attempted murder, as well as an "egregious history of moving violations demonstrating an inability to comply with licensing requirements.”

Cronan cited last year's Supreme Court Bruen ruling in his decision, saying the vaguely worded “good cause” provision in New York City's rules were “much like” the “proper cause” wording invalidated by the Supreme Court in its decision last year.

He said the provisions he struck down were written so that “a licensing official would make a judgment call about the character, temperament and judgment of each applicant without an objective process.”

“Without doubt, the very notions of ‘good moral character’ and ‘good cause’ are inherently exceedingly broad and discretionary. Someone may be deemed to have good moral character by one person, yet a very morally flawed character by another. Such unfettered discretion is hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with Bruen,” Cronan wrote.