New York — Where you Need Permission to Save Your Life

New York — Where you Need Permission to Save Your Life – Gun Rights

Jeff Snyder

I live in New York State. It has some real benefits. The place is astoundingly beautiful, there’s tons of great ethnic food and the people are engaging and interesting. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most taxed and regulated jurisdictions in the country.

The New York State constitution makes no mention of the right to keep and bear arms. This causes some people- notably, legislators, police, prosecutors and judges- to conclude that, in New York, there is no right to keep and bear arms and that whatever the state law says, goes. This of course shows how far we have fallen from an understanding of what our rights once were.

Recall that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not create the right to keep and bear arms, but simply refers to an already existing right inherent in the people from time immemorial. The right was not created by law, but was an individual right not subject to abrogation by the will of the majority via legislation. It was a right our ancestors had as Englishmen, before the War For Independence, before state constitutions.

Since the right was not created by positive law and already existed, it was not necessary to mention it in a state constitution for it to exist. It already existed at the time state constitutions were created. Failing to mention it does not make it disappear, for the majority necessary to approve a constitution has no power to dispose of individual rights to begin with.

The fact that a state constitution makes no mention of the right, then, does not mean that the right ceases to exist or that the state has the complete power to abrogate the right in the interest of public health or safety.

To argue the right doesn’t exist because the state constitution fails to refer to it would raise the very interesting legal and philosophical question of how a majority or even super-majority can dispose of an individual right, especially when they don’t even mention that that is what they are doing, simply not saying anything about it at

Well, to overcome the supposed “defect,” the language of the Second Amendment has been incorporated into New York civil rights law. So the right to keep and bear arms is a New York civil right, but here’s a good joke: It is ignored anyway. Apparently, there is no known case of this civil right preventing the legislature from doing anything.

So it is that in New York, you need a license to save your life with a handgun. Under the Sullivan Law, as currently in effect, you cannot possess a handgun without a license. A license can be issued to you only if you:

* are at least 21

* are of “good moral character”

* have not been convicted of a felony or a “serious offense”

* have stated whether you ever suffered mental illness or were confined to any institution for mental illness

* have never had a license revoked and you are not under a family court order prohibiting you from obtaining a license

* are certain that no good cause exists for the denial of the license

Only certain types of licenses for pistols or revolvers are available. The most common are licenses to have a handgun in your dwelling, to possess in your place of business if you are a merchant or storekeeper, and to carry concealed “without regard to employment or place of possession, but only if proper cause exists for the issuance thereof. The statute does not define “proper cause.” It is left to the discretion of the issuing officer, who is generally the judge of the county of residence.

Thus, the licensing officer determines whether, in each case, the desire of the applicant for a license to have a means of defending his or her life ready at hand is “proper cause” for granting an unrestricted carry license.

In Broome County, where I reside, unrestricted licenses are almost never issued. The forms provided to you by the sheriff’s office contain an application for a “target” license, i.e., a license limited to carrying between your home and the range for target practice.

In Broome County, as in most counties in New York, saving your life or those of your loved ones if violently assaulted outside of the home is not a proper cause to carry a handgun, but enjoying a nice day of shooting at the target range is.

The state, evidently, just wants me to have a good time, and not worry my little head over the nasty things that might happen to me in the big, bad world. I should relax and just enjoy life.

Doesn’t the judge know what’s best for me? I wonder how he became so wise. I wonder if some day, I might be wise enough to realize that it is not necessary–oh, excuse me, “proper”– for me to defend my life or my wife or children’s lives from deadly assault.

Judge’s Gamble

Maybe the judge thinks that self-defense is a good thing, but that proper cause to issue the unrestricted license doesn’t exist because, really, the chances of me encountering a deadly assault are just so remote. Well, what am I to make of that, that the judge is willing to roll the dice with my life?

And what about my dear representatives in the legislature? What am I to make of the fact that they have authorized him to gamble with my life that way?

Besides, really, how good is he at predicting such things? If he could really tell who was likely to be the victim of a violent robbery, rape or homicide attempt, why isn’t he telling the sheriff so that the sheriff can be there to save the victims, instead of always showing up after the fact when they’re already dead or in the hospital?

For example, licenses are often issued to people whose business requires them to carry a lot of money. But when I read the paper, I see that most victims of violent crime are not people known in the community to carry lots of money. For example, in the most recent homicide in Broome County, a kindly retiree was robbed and killed while walking home with a pizza through his neighborhood after midnight. He was probably killed for $20 or $40 in his wallet. So I don’t think that the judge is terribly good at predicting who will be a victim of violent crime.

Since he is playing with people’s lives by pretending otherwise, I would go so far as to say that he’s not really helping honest citizens, but basically helping criminals to victimize honest citizens by making sure that they will be unarmed. Recall that he’s already determined that if he’s issuing the license, the applicant has good moral character, which means the applicant is trustworthy.

Youthful Restraint

The requirement that the applicant for a license be at least 21 was just added last year. Some gun owners here in New York think this is outrageous. After all, a young man of 18 is old enough to bear arms in the military, so why not own a handgun?

But I think contrasting these two situations is revealing about what our legislators think. The young man in the military is acting under orders; he does what he is told by those in command. The young man who is just a civilian is, however, acting on his own recognizance. Who knows what he will do?

I think this shows what the state’s conception of safety and order is. People are safe and are acting properly as long as they are following orders. The state can relax if it knows that the citizen is doing what he is told to do. And as long as this is the case, it doesn’t really matter what those under command do.

For example, the government did not prosecute any federal agents for the amazing misconduct at Ruby Ridge or Waco. Those guys were doing what they were told, so as far as the government was concerned, there was really nothing wrong with what they did. Hence, no prosecutions.

But people are dangerous unknowns and highly suspect if they are acting on their own.

So now I understand why there is a target license. I’m safe as long as I’m doing what I am told, as long as I just follow orders and only take my handgun to and from the range and keep it locked up at all other times. There’s a good boy, Jeff.

But an unrestricted license that allows me to act on my own recognizance? As if I were an independent adult capable of acting properly on my own, without being told what to do or how to act? Why, wherever would I get such a dangerous idea?

COPYRIGHT 2002 Publishers’ Development Corporation

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group