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Libertarians challenge New York’s pistol permit law

When Edward Garrett moved here from South Dakota, he went about getting a pistol permit.

Three years later, he’s suing New York State in Buffalo federal court.

“Whatever happened to the words, ‘shall not be infringed?’ ” asked Garrett, a Town of Evans resident and the new chairman of the Erie County Libertarian Party.

Garrett is one of eight plaintiffs in a new civil suit challenging the constitutionality of New York’s pistol permit law, a gun control law dating to 1911 and the Tammany Hall days of New York City.

The suit, filed on behalf of the local Libertarian Party, points to the time and cost involved in applying for a permit – they claim it can take up to a year – to suggest that the law is overly burdensome and therefore a violation of the Second Amendment.

The plaintiffs also take issue with the various local governments charged with issuing permits and claim the decision-making on who gets them and who doesn’t can vary greatly from county to county.

“The law is arbitrary in both its scope and authority,” said Richard Cooper, a Nassau County businessman and a former state chairman of the Libertarian Party. “That’s inherently unfair.”

Garrett said the suit is intended, at least in part, to get people talking about the permit process.

But gun-control advocates say the law has been tested repeatedly over the years and found to be constitutional.

The law, known to some as the Sullivan Act, named after the Tammany Hall politician who sponsored it, requires licenses for state residents who possess firearms small enough to be concealed.

“The Libertarian Party lawsuit is nothing but a rehashing of old and tired arguments that have been long settled by the courts,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “The Supreme Court has consistently held that gun regulations are compatible with the Second Amendment.”

Barrett said the lawsuit is filled with legal and historical errors and, even more important, fails to recognize that the courts have repeatedly given elected officials and judges the authority to act in the interests of public safety.

“Keeping concealable guns out of the hands of dangerous people violates no one’s rights but does protect the public,” she said. “Requiring that law enforcement screen applicants for their suitability to carry a loaded firearm in public is entirely reasonable.”

The suit makes several references to government tyranny and the potential for what happened in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia to happen here. It also suggests that individuals have a right to self-defense and the defense of their families and that gun ownership is a fundamental part of that right.

“Governments do abuse power,” said James Ostrowski, the Buffalo lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “We’re not going to let the government deny us the right to bear arms.”

Unlike previous legal challenges, Ostrowski thinks this lawsuit can be successful. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court, in recent years, has struck down gun bans and recognized an individual’s right to bear arms in two landmark cases, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.

The American Constitutional Society, a national group that tracks constitutional and legal issues, recently held a seminar on Heller and McDonald and heard from experts who claim 200 federal court decisions have come down since then, and not one has overturned a gun regulation law on the basis of the Second Amendment.

The pistol permit suit, which names Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as the lead defendant, is currently before U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr.