New York Pistol Carry Law to be Considered by US Supreme Court

June 1, 2021

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

In New York, you must have a pistol carry permit to possess a handgun in public. Yet a showing of “proper cause” to obtain the license is required. Just wanting a gun for self-protection is not sufficient cause. Is this constitutional? The country’s highest court will soon consider the issue.


New York’s Pistol Carry Law

The US Constitution’s Second Amendment reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment protects the right to have a handgun in the home. Yet the Court was silent as to the right to carry in public. When it comes to public carry, many states restrict this by issuing licenses or permits. In New York, pursuant to Penal Law § 400.00(2), one must show “proper cause” for an unrestricted concealed carry permit.

A license for a pistol or revolver, other than an assault weapon or a disguised gun, shall be issued to … (f) have and carry concealed, without regard to employment or place of possession, by any person when proper cause exists for the issuance thereof … .

Thus many applications for concealed carry permits are denied because the person hasn’t demonstrated that “proper cause” exists. What is proper cause? In general, this is when a person shows a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community. Several other states, including New Jersey, have similar laws. Most recently, the Ninth Circuit upheld a comparable law in Hawaii.


Facts of the Case

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett (docket no. 20-843), two men challenged New York’s law after authorities rejected their concealed-carry applications.

According to the complaint, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch are “ordinary, law-abiding citizen[s] of New York who wish[ ] to carry a firearm outside the home for the purpose of self-defense.” They had passed all background checks and met all qualifications for eligibility for a pistol carry permit. However, they were unable to show “proper cause,” and their permit applications were denied.

The two men are backed by New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. This is a gun-rights advocacy group “organized to support and defend the right of New York residents to keep and bear arms.”


Why the Case is So Significant

In 2012, the Second Circuit – a federal court hearing cases from New York, Connecticut, and Vermont – held that the law requiring an applicant to demonstrate “proper cause” did not violate the Second Amendment. Now, the US Supreme Court will be considering that same question.

The Court could specifically uphold New York’s law, or it could strike it down. More broadly, the Court could determine that New York’s law is in a category of “may issue” laws that are unconstitutional. In doing so, this would have a impact on carry permits throughout the US. Laws would have to change to a “shall issue” system, meaning permits would have to be granted if an applicant meets eligibility requirements.