Federal Judge Upholds Almost All of New York's Gun Law

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 31 2013 4:00 PM

Federal Judge Upholds Almost All of New York's Gun Law

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Tell it to Scalia.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

On Tuesday, Judge William M. Skretny of the Western District of New York upheld most of the state's stringest gun control law passed in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Judge Skretny found that two of the law's lynchpins, a ban on large-capacity magazines and the sale of assault weapons, passed constitutional muster. But he struck down a third component, which placed a seven-round limit on magazines, holding that it did nothing to “further the state’s important interest in public safety.”

Judge Skretny's ruling is an obvious boon to gun control supporters, who have faced both legislative and judicial setbacks in recent years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings in Heller and McDonald—which found that no government, state or federal, may ban handguns outright—it remains unclear exactly what kind of firearms the 2nd Amendment should protect. Justice Antonin Scalia's Heller opinion clearly limited the ruling to handguns inside the home, noting that certain "longstanding prohibitions" on firearm sales, as well as "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms," were entirely constitutional. Conservatives and libertarians have criticized these qualifications as "disarming dicta," while liberals have praised them as a necessary dose of sanity. 

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The muddled Heller opinion has led different courts in different directions, leaving the validity of New York's law heretofore hazy. Last year, the 7th Circuit begrudgingly struck down Illinois' concealed carry ban, while a New Jersey state appeals court upheld the state's tough permitting system this week. (Governor Chris Christie declined to defend the gun control law in court.) With so much ambiguity springing from the U.S. Supreme Court's opaque opinions, the justices seem likely to take on another gun case soon. Judge Skretny's ruling, then, may not be the last word on gun control in New York.