Tuesday, July 9, 2013
To register a handgun in the state of New York, the fee is $3-10. However, a New York statute, New York State Penal Law § 400.00(14), allows the City of New York and the adjoining county of Nassau on Long Island to set and collect a different fee. The challengers argued that this statutory provision violated equal protection. Additionally, the challengers argued that the fee set by New York City - - - $340 for a three year license - - - violated the Second Amendment. In its opinion in Kwong v. Bloomberg, a unanimous Second Circuit panel upheld both the state statute and the city regulation, affirming the district judge.
Judge Jose Cabranes rejected the argument that the $340 fee set by NYC Admin. Code § 10-131(a)(2) places too great a burden on their Second Amendment rights. Following the path set by other judges, the Second Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s First Amendment fee jurisprudence provides the appropriate foundation for analyzing the constitutionality of fees under the Second Amendment. Here, the court held that the "undisputed evidence" demonstrated that "the $340 licensing fee is designed to defray (and does not exceed) the administrative costs associated with the licensing scheme."
Moreover, the mere fact that the license is more expensive does not make it a substantial burden on one's Second Amendment rights. The opinion interestingly includes a "see also" and cites Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 874 (1992) including this quote in the parenthetical: (“The fact that a law which serves a valid purpose, one not designed to strike at the right itself, has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to [exercise the right] cannot be enough to invalidate it.”)
Even if the NYC law were subject to intermediate scrutiny - - - as the concurring opinion by Judge John Walker asserts - - - and as the Second Circuit previously applied to a concealed handgun law - - - the fee would still survive, as Judge Walker agrees.
As for the equal protection claim against the state statute allowing differential fees, the court rejected the argument that because a fundamental right is at stake, the state statute merited strict scrutiny. The court held that a fundamental right was not "burdened" and further that geographic classifications are not suspect. Applying rational basis, the court found it easily satisfied.
Again, Judge Walker concurring would apply intermediate scrutiny, and again, he found that the higher fee would survive the heightened level of scrutiny.
The disagreement amongst the judges regarding the standard is thus of no moment - - - at least in this case. But further litigation about what constitutes a burden on a Second Amendment rights will likely continue.