New York's New Gun Law: How Might the NRA Challenge It in Court?

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The National Rifle Association says it will take to court New Yorks tough new gun bill, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday.

The new law, called New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act or NY SAFE Act, is particularly tough on the high- capacity ammunition magazines used in semiautomatic assault rifles. Residents of the state will not be allowed to use magazines that carry more than seven rounds and will be required to sell, within a year, any magazines that hold eight or more rounds.

Outside experts expect the NRA will challenge the law as a violation of the Second Amendment, which protects the rights of citizens to own and bear arms.

Ever since the US Supreme Courts 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the justices struck down a ban on owning handguns in Washington, D.C., challenges to gun laws have flooded the courts.

In its 5-to-4 decision, the high court said the Districts handgun prohibition, which started in 1976, violated the Second Amendment. But the court also left room for the District to put prohibitions on gun ownership by felons and the mentally ill.

Since Heller there has been an onslaught of litigation, says Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco. The Supreme Court made clear the Second Amendment protects the right to defend yourself at home ... but the ruling pertained only to handguns, not any other weapon.

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Exactly where that leaves New Yorks law is likely to be hotly debated.

A much earlier Supreme Court ruling, US v. Miller, protected the right to carry arms that are part of ordinary military equipment or in common use, says Nicholas Johnson, a professor at Fordham University School of Law in New York.

There are now millions of AR-15s, an assault rifle, in use in the United States, he points out. It is now impossible to argue that the AR-15 is not a gun in common use, he argues.

Professor Johnson extends the argument to the magazines that hold the ammunition. There are probably hundreds of millions of high- capacity magazines in the world, he says. Can you separate a gun from the magazine? he asks.

In fact, he questions whether New Yorks law that mandates magazines of no more than seven rounds is a backdoor way to ban guns, since the standard for the AR-15 is a 10-round magazine. …