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Federal judge dismisses challenge to New York's pistol permit law

In Edward Garrett's eyes, the time, energy and money it took for him to get a pistol permit, were reasons enough to challenge the state law.

The former chairman of the Erie County Libertarian Party got his answer this week: the 106-year old law stands.

A federal judge dismissed the Libertarians' legal challenge and pointed to the pistol permit's role in ensuring that "only law-abiding, responsible citizens" are allowed to own guns.

"Moreover, the laws promote public safety and prevent gun violence," Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. wrote in his decision.

The court decision came on the same day Erie County lawmakers urged Gov. Cuomo to extend the deadline for pistol permit recertifications.

Under New York's SAFE Act, pistol permit holders who received their permit before Jan. 15, 2013, must re-certify with the State Police by Jan. 31 or face a loss of their permit and possibly firearm, as well.

Lawmakers ask Cuomo to extend pistol permit deadline

In the court case, Geraci rejected the Libertarians' argument that the pistol permit law is constitutionally vague because of its reliance on determining a license applicant's "good moral character."

He also rejected the party's claim that the law is too expensive, too time-consuming and an unnecessary invasion of an individual's privacy.

“This decision is a victory for sensible gun laws and New York’s fundamental responsibility to protect our communities," Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement Friday.  "Common sense guidelines that ensure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands are critical to our public safety. We’re glad the court agreed.”

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.

"We're not surprised by the decision and we're obviously going to appeal," said James Ostrowski, a lawyer for the local Libertarian party.

When the suit was first filed, gun control advocates suggested it was a waste of time. New Yorkers Against Gun Violence described the lawsuit as nothing but a "rehashing of old and tired arguments that have been long settled by the courts.”

The group also claimed the lawsuit was filled with legal and historical errors and, even more important, failed to recognize that the courts have repeatedly given elected officials and judges the authority to act in the interests of public safety.

Unlike previous legal challenges, Ostrowski thinks this lawsuit can make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tens of thousands of Erie County pistol permit holders need recertification

The suit, filed in July of 2015, points to the time and cost involved in applying for a permit – critics 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.

"There's a right to bear arms but it's only a privilege in New York State," Ostrowski said Thursday.

If the suit is appealed, it would go forward as politicians debate the need for an extension in the Jan. 31 deadline for pistol permit recertifications.

County legislators claim less than half of the more than 50,000 permits in the county have been renewed.

“Because of the volume of permits to be renewed, additional time is needed to allow everyone the opportunity to fulfill this New York State requirement," Legislator John Mills, an Orchard Park Republican, said in a statement. "The residents of Erie County deserve ample time to accomplish this.”


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