By George L. Lyon, Jr*
WASHINGTON, DC, NOV. 3, 2021: The Supreme Court today heard arguments in the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. This case concerns the constitutionality of New York’s Sullivan law which requires applicants for an unrestricted pistol license to show “good cause,” defined as a special need for self-protection, distinct from the average person in their particular occupations. The law was previously upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement argued for the opponents of the law. New York’s Solicitor General and the Acting Solicitor General of the United States argued in support of the law.
Mr. Clement opened by stating that the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision confirms the right of an individual, independent of service in a state militia, to both keep and to carry arms, that New York concedes there is a right to carry outside the home and that concession dooms the New York good cause requirement because it transforms a right into a mere privilege subject to the whims of governmental authorities.
The Justices’ questioning of counsel provided a fair degree of insight into how they are viewing the case. It was apparent from the questioning by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor that they see nothing constitutional infirm with New York’s good cause requirement. Although all the Justices seemed to agree that the court should look to text, history and tradition as at least an initial starting point in evaluating the case, there was not uniformity in terms of what historical periods should be most relevant to the court’s decision on this issue. Justice Thomas, for example, asked whether the founding period was most relevant or the period surrounding the adoption of the 14thAmendment, which the Court construes as having applied the Second Amendment to the several states. Mr. Clement’s response was that to the extent the history was in conflict, the period of the adoption of the 14thAmendment was most appropriate, but that here there is no such conflict. Mr. Clement would limit examination of history beyond those times as he said that the point is to look at the history that's relevant for understanding the original public meaning of the Second Amendment and the 14th Amendment.
Justice Breyer questioned whether the historical discussion in Heller was accurate but also suggested that the record in the case lacked sufficient data as to how New York is applying its good cause standard, in essence suggesting the court should remand the case for factual development. Mr. Clement responded that as to his two clients, there is no question how the good cause standard was applied because they were both denied unrestricted licenses for lack of good cause.
Justice Kagan observed that while Heller presumptively validated laws prohibiting felons and the mentally ill from possessing firearms, these laws were of relatively recent vintage, e.g., in the 1920s. Mr. Clement pointed out that at the founding, felonies were capital crimes, and also that regulations in the 20th century were to a large extent based on the collective rights theory that Heller rejected.
A theme of both New York and the United States as well as Justice Sotomayor was to suggest a robust history of firearms regulation in the nation. New York’s counsel also placed substantial reliance on the ancient Statute of Northampton and on 18th and 19th century surety laws to support restrictions on carrying arms outside the home. Mr. Clement pointed out that the Statute of Northampton has not been interpreted to prevent carrying arms except where one carries dangerous and unusual arms to terrorize the people. He further suggested that the surety laws New York referenced actually supported a right to carry arms in self-defense because such laws assumed the right to carry and only on complaint of an abuse of that right did they require a bond to keep the peace while still carrying.
Justice Alito who appears to have concluded that the good cause requirement is constitutionally infirm also called out New York for omitting the term “armed offensively” when citing a manual on the laws of North Carolina that appeared to call for the arrest of persons going armed. New York’s response was that firearms are inherently offensive. By the way, New York was not alone in making these types of omissions. Amici in support of New York made similar questionable omissions when quoting historical resources. Justice Alito also raised the question how scattered statutes or judicial decisions in the 19th and 20th centuries that are inconsistent with petitioners’ argument bear on the original intent of the Second Amendment.
It appears that Chief Justice Roberts shares Justice Alito’s skepticism with respect to the good cause requirement. Chief Justice Roberts suggested that Heller rather than Northampton should be the starting point.
This occurred in the context of another issue that merited substantial discussion, whether there should be a different rule for urban rather than rural areas. New York’s counsel argued that permits are more plentiful in rural areas of New York than in the more populated areas and that guns in populated areas create a greater risk of harm. Chief Justice Roberts pushed back against this line of argument. He said that Heller relied on the right of self-defense and that it is more likely that one would need a gun for self-defense in a populated area than in a rural area, pointing to high crime urban areas. “How many muggings happen in the woods?” he asked. He continued this line of inquiry and asked a hypothetical question about someone concerned about an active serial killer. New York’s counsel suggested that alone was not a sufficient reason to allow a citizen to carry outside the home for self-protection. Justice Kavanaugh picked up on that line and asked why isn’t it good enough to say you live in a violent area? New York’s counsel’s response can best be described as largely unresponsive to the question.
Justice Kavanaugh expressed concern that the discretion afforded licensing officials is inconsistent with the notion of a constitutional right. Justice Kagan stated that it seemed intuitive to her that there should be different gun regimes in New York versus Wyoming but stated that it is a hard concept to match with our notion of constitutional rights. She stated that the First Amendment would never allow such a distinction and asked for justification. Counsel’s response was that local conditions and concerns should dictate and that New York delegates the decision on license issuance to local officials.
The Justices seemed intent on examining the “sensitive places” issue which is not directly raised by the case. Chief Justice Roberts asked Mr. Clement whether universities could be off limits or places that serve alcohol. Mr. Clement responded yes to universities and that states could restrict consuming alcohol while carrying. Other Justices asked about sports stadiums, protests, subways, and special events. Justice Barrett asked about Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Mr. Clement suggested that as to particular places, the courts should look to historical analogs. He further likened sensitive places to the non-public forum doctrine in First Amendment law, basically a place where given its nature weapons would be out of place. Justice Alito suggested that a way to handle the sensitive places question would be to examine whether the state has taken alternative means to safeguard persons, for example, though use of metal detectors.
On balance it appears five votes exist to overturn the good reason requirement with Justice Barrett possibly a sixth vote.
Here is a link to the transcript of the argument on the Supreme Court’s website: https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2021/20-843_i4dk.pdf.
* Arsenal Attorneys is a nationwide law firm headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia in the metropolitan Washington, DC. The firm offers serves clients in over 30 states in estate planning, criminal defense, civil litigation, business law, landlord-tenant disputes, real estate, firearms law, restoration of rights, carry permits, and the firm’s proprietary Arsenal Gun Trust. Matthew Bergstrom is the firm’s Managing Attorney, and he is licensed in California, Michigan, Nevada, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. George Lyon is licensed to practice law in Virginia and the District of Columbia. He was one of the plaintiffs in Palmer v. District of Columbia which forced DC to begin issuing concealed carry licenses, and he was one of the initial plaintiffs in the US Supreme Court's landmark Second Amendment decision, Heller, which legalized handguns in Washington, DC. Mr. Lyon is licensed by the Metropolitan Police Department to teach the DC Concealed Carry License course including the renewal course and conducts the course monthly. Contact Mr. Lyon at gll[at]arsenalattorneys.com.
This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
By George L. Lyon, Jr, Esq.
There have been a number of important developments affecting DC Concealed Carry Licensees, and new and renewal applicants.
First, due to the Corona virus medical emergency, indoor ranges are closed and in person classes are difficult, if not impossible to conduct classes and shooting qualifications. This especially impacts persons with DC carry licenses up for renewal while the Corona virus emergency is pending.
I brought this fact up to MPD and DC City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who in turn spoke to Chief Newsome about extending the expiration date on expiring licenses. The DC council then passed legislation giving the Mayor authority to extend expiring licenses (carry as well as other licenses) through the current medical emergency. Chief Newsome then exercised that authority by extending licenses expiring during the medical emergency for the duration of the medical emergency and for an additional 45 days thereafter.
By George L. Lyon, Jr, Esq.
Arsenal Attorneys frequently advises clients in the concealed carry of firearms, including licenses to carry in the District of Columbia by residents and nonresidents alike. After helping win the battle for these rights, I now help clients renew their carry licenses. This blog provides a summary of the license renewal procedure. But first, some history.
Two years ago, on September 28, 2017, the Federal DC Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn the ruling of its three-judge panel in Wrenn v. District of Columbia finding DC’s ‘may issue’ concealed carry licensing scheme unconstitutional. Since that time, DC has been a ‘shall issue’ concealed carry jurisdiction.
As a result of the court’s ruling, DC concealed carry licenses have increased from 123 in September 2017 to 3,339 as of the end of August 2019. Despite DC’s lamentations that shall issue conceal carry would threaten public safety, the record shows that DC’s concealed carry license holders have been exceedingly law abiding. Since June of 2014, when the courts first forced DC to issue concealed carry licenses, only two concealed carry licenses have been revoked for criminal violations and these were not for violent crimes, but rather for violation of one of DC’s myriad, complex weapons offenses, e.g., possessing a firearm in DC the license holder had not registered.
Nor have DC concealed license holders set off gun fights in the street. There has been just one reported shooting by a DC concealed carry license holder. It occurred when the license holder fired in self-defense when attacked by two would be robbers. No charges were filed against the licensed carrier.
Given that DC requires its concealed carry licenses to be renewed every two years and that quite a few people applied for carry licenses soon after DC went shall issue in September of 2017, we thought we would review the procedure for renewing DC carry licenses. The good news is that unlike the rather complex and time-consuming process for receiving the initial carry license, the renewal process has been greatly streamlined.
Although the initial mandatory training for the DC carry license is 16 hours of classroom instruction and two hours of range training, the renewal training requirement is just four hours of classroom training plus a two-hour range session. The renewal training requirement is mandatory and not waivable. A DC-licensed firearm instructor will provide you a certificate documenting proof of your training which you must submit with your renewal application. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has a portal on its website allowing you to pay the $75 fee and submit the renewal application and training certificate online. It can be accessed at this link. If your renewal is submitted online, your renewed license will be mailed to you in about a week.
Be advised that for reasons unknown the portal is sometimes unreliable. Alternatively, you may submit the application and training certificate at MPD’s firearm registration office at 300 Indiana Avenue to submit your application, training certificate, and $75 renewal fee. When submitting in person, your renewed license will be issued to you after about an hour’s wait.
Remember, a carry license holder may only carry a firearm that has been registered in DC. There is no requirement to re-register the guns that you carry. In a later blog, we will explain which firearms are legal to possess and register in Washington.
Arsenal Attorneys’ George Lyon is licensed to practice law in Virginia and the District of Columbia. He was one of the plaintiffs in the Palmer v. District of Columbia case that forced DC to begin issuing concealed carry licenses and in the Heller case that legalized handguns in Washington, DC. Mr. Lyon is licensed by the Metropolitan Police Department to teach the DC concealed carry course including the renewal course and conducts the course monthly. His next class is November 16 in Arlington, Virginia. To sign up for his course, contact Mr. Lyon at gll[at]arsenalattorneys.com or at 703-291-3312.
This blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.
As gun lawyers, Arsenal Attorneys™ advise clients in the implications of keeping and bearing arms. We draw (no pun intended) on our collective in-house experience as lawyers, firearms instructors, range safety officers, and firearms dealers—a holistic approach, if you will. Regardless of how we look at it, backpacks and guns just don’t mix. From a legal standpoint, or tactically speaking, once you separate a gun from your person, you run the risk of making it inaccessible or worse, forgetting it altogether. Thus, your gun might not be where you need it, or you might take it where it is forbidden.
In self-defense law classes, we stress to students the need to carry their guns. Venable firearms instructor Tom Givens has taught many thousands of students over his 35 plus years as an instructor. Givens reports that 66 of his students have been involved in gun fights. Sixty survived with no injuries. Three were injured. Three were killed. Of this sample population, Givens confirmed the fatalities occurred when those three of his students found themselves unarmed in the face of danger.
When left without a practical method to carry a firearm on their person, many people choose to carry off their bodies. This is especially common with women who tend to wear clothes that are form-fitting and lack layers to conceal a sidearm. A purse becomes the most readily available option. Some people find a firearm too uncomfortable to carry and opt for off body carry in a fanny pack or backpack. Still others need to transport a firearm, and rather than going ‘strapped’, they carry their gun in a bag.
Off body carry, particularly with a backpack, however, carries both tactical and legal risks.
Lack of quick access to the firearm poses practical and liability problems. The need for a firearm is likely to arise rapidly. If a concealed carrier has the time to take the backpack off, open it up, find the gun amid everything else in the backpack, and pull out the gun, there is a good chance he has the opportunity to retreat and avoid using deadly force altogether. A safe retreat, if available, is almost always going to be a person’s best option both tactically and legally. After all, avoiding the gun fight could mean you don’t get shot, don’t get sued by the person you shot or his family, and don’t get arrested. Alternatively, if there is no time to draw the gun from a bag, then it is like having no gun at all.
We always emphasize situational awareness, and a frequent legal problem involving guns and bags reflects the total opposite mindset: forgetfulness. In numerous cases, we have represented well-intentioned clients whose guns forgotten in bags or briefcases are discovered by security guards at the entrances of ‘gun-free zones’, especially during x-ray screening at government facilities and airports. Incidentally, the number of arrests at the airport for unlawful possession of guns or ammunition has dramatically increased, not necessarily because of an increased number of guns discovered, but because of more aggressive prosecution of these cases.
Every case in which we have been contacted by a potential client arrested for gun possession in a security checkpoint had forgotten that gun in a backpack. There are obviously serious consequences even to inadvertently entering a secured area with a firearm. In the District of Columbia, the government can charge the felony of carrying a handgun without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of unregistered ammunition, the latter two charges being misdemeanors having potential jail terms of one year. Assuming the individual has a license to carry in the District of Columbia, that license very well could end up revoked and the carrier charged with a misdemeanor for violating carry restrictions. That offense comes with a potential jail term of 180 days.
At Virginia airports, the charge could be carrying a dangerous weapon into an air terminal, a Class One misdemeanor, carrying a potential jail term of one year and/or a fine of up to $2,500. On top of that, TSA is likely to impose an administrative fine on the offender.
There are similar statutes covering courthouses and schools in Virginia.
In almost all cases involving persons with a clean record and no aggravating circumstances, it could be possible to negotiate a disposition that avoids jail time. However, if a person convicted of a crime could have been subject to imprisonment of more than a year, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, and regardless of whether they had been imprisoned at all, such a person would become a ‘prohibited person’ and therefore lose the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Our best advice, to ensure your personal safety and to reduce your legal risks, don’t carry a gun in a backpack.