The Empire State’s latest gun-control law was dealt another setback in federal court today.
Judge John Sinatra of the Western District of New York, a Trump appointee, found the state’s total ban on licensed gun-carry inside places of worship is unconstitutional. He issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the provision to go into effect immediately and remain in effect until he decides on a request for a preliminary injunction. Judge Sinatra said the state’s gun ban in churches violates the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers.
“Here, absent a TRO, Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights are being violated,” he wrote. “Law-abiding citizens are forced to forgo their Second Amendment rights to exercise their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, or vice versa. And they are to give up their rights to armed self-defense outside the home, being left to the mercy of opportunistic, lawless individuals who might prey on them and have no concern about the place of worship exclusion.”
Judge Sinatra is the second federal judge in as many weeks to find part of the state’s new gun law unconstitutional. Most of the law’s other novel restrictions, passed by the state as a defiant response to the Supreme Court striking down its previous gun-carry law in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, were also ruled out of bounds by District Judge Glenn Suddaby two weeks ago. Suddaby’s TRO against the law has since been stayed pending an appeal, but the quick succession of decisions against the law could signal a hard fight for the state as they move up the court system.
Plaintiffs in the case argued the ban restricted their First and Second Amendment rights by preventing them from exercising both at the same time in a way that was not historically allowed. The Second Amendment Foundation and Firearms Policy Coalition joined Bishop Larry A. Boyd of Buffalo and Rev. Dr. Jimmie Hardaway, Jr., of Niagara Falls in the suit.
“As we noted in our petition for the TRO, Reverend Hardaway has almost always carried a firearm for self-defense on Sundays and at services on the premises of the churches he has pastored,” Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said in a statement. “New York has now stripped Reverend Hardaway, Bishop Boyd, and other New Yorkers of their ability to defend themselves should the need arise at their places of worship. The restrictive new statute prevented both men from doing so.”
The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.) told The Reload it is “reviewing this decision and considering our options in our ongoing efforts to protect New Yorkers and defend our common sense gun laws.”
Judge Sinatra said the state’s church ban is incompatible with the Bruen standard. In fact, he argued it turned the Supreme Court’s decision on its head.
“Ample Supreme Court precedent addressing the individual’s right to keep and bear arms—from Heller and McDonald to its June 2022 decision in Bruen dictates that New York’s new place of worship restriction is equally unconstitutional,” he wrote. “In Bruen, the Court made the Second Amendment test crystal clear: regulation in this area is permissible only if the government demonstrates that the regulation is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of sufficiently analogous regulations. As set forth below, New York fails that test. The State’s exclusion is, instead, inconsistent with the Nation’s historical traditions, impermissibly infringing on the right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”
He said the state did not offer evidence the ability of licensed gun-carriers to carry in churches had previously led to violence.
“The State argues that broad legal carrying in dense congregate settings can result in spontaneous violence or accidental shootings,” Sinatra said. “But the State does not claim or show that the carrying of firearms at places of worship has resulted in an increase in handgun violence, or that public safety would be impaired if the places of worship restriction is enjoined. A TRO would, however, serve the public interest Of fostering self-defense at places of worship across the state.”
Judge Sinatra set a hearing on the preliminary injunction for November 3rd.
UPDATE 8:25 PM EASTERN 10-20-2022: This piece has been updated with comment from the the New York Attorney General’s office.