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Judge rejects challenge to NY’s tougher gun laws

Robert Schulz challenges the recently-legislated NY SAFE Act because it was passed too quickly in State Supreme Court in March in Albany. Judge Thomas McNamara refused to block the new law saying case law by New York’s top court prevents him from reviewing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s justification for pushing the bill quickly through the Legislature instead of waiting the three days usually required. AP Images

Robert Schulz challenges the recently-legislated NY SAFE Act because it was passed too quickly in State Supreme Court in March in Albany. Judge Thomas McNamara refused to block the new law saying case law by New York’s top court prevents him from reviewing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s justification for pushing the bill quickly through the Legislature instead of waiting the three days usually required. AP Images

A trial-level judge has dismissed a challenge to New York’s new gun law, rejecting legal claims that the law was pushed through the legislature improperly and that its restrictions violate the Second Amendment.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara’s decision, announced Wednesday, is expected to be appealed as gun rights supporters continue to protest the 2013 SAFE Act. The law bans the sale of high-capacity magazines and many semi-automatic firearms and requires gun owners to register such weapons with authorities.

Plaintiff Robert Schulz, who is spearheading the legal challenge, argued that Gov. Andrew Cuomo inappropriately fast-tracked passage of the legislation in issuing a “message of necessity” to allow lawmakers to waive the usual waiting period for the consideration of bills. At the time, Cuomo said the measure needed immediate consideration to protect the public.

Schulz said Cuomo’s excuse was a “sham,” but the judge ruled that Cuomo’s request was within the law.

Schulz, who was joined by more than 1,000 other plaintiffs, also argued that the SAFE Act violates state and federal constitutional protections on gun rights. But the judge noted in his ruling that those protections are “not absolute and may be limited by reasonable government restrictions.”

“The right is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” he wrote.

Schulz said the decision was disappointing but not surprising. He said he plans to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

“The people are losing freedoms one slice at a time,” he said. “The way the system is working is in sharp contrast to the way it’s supposed to work.”

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said his office will continue to defend “efforts to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers by keeping guns out of dangerous hands.”

“New Yorkers deserve to live in a state with a strong set of procedures in place to protect them from gun violence,” he said in a statement. “The SAFE Act established those necessary safeguards without infringing on the rights of responsible gun owners.”

In a federal lawsuit, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association joined gun owners and other gun rights groups in challenging the law. A federal judge recently upheld most of the law; the decision is under appeal.

Also on Wednesday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he plans to spend $50 million this year on a new group that will mix campaign contributions with field operations aimed at pulling one million gun-control supporters to the polls, adding a new dimension to his long-running fight for tighter firearms regulation.

The new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, plans to mobilize voters to back candidates and ballot measures supporting such causes as enhancing background checks for gun buyers, according to a news release. The group also plans to issue candidate questionnaires and scorecards and form a political action committee.

“This new organization will bring more people into the fight against gun violence, which affects every town in America,” Bloomberg said in a statement. The group will look closely at 15 states, including pro-gun states such as Texas, and other states where gun control initiatives have advanced.

The National Rifle Association had no immediate comment Wednesday but said it would respond at its annual meeting next week in Indianapolis.

The billionaire Bloomberg has used a combination of his wealth and his stature as the 12-year mayor of the nation’s biggest city to become perhaps the country’s most formidable gun-control activist.

It’s a cause he cast in dramatic terms in an interview published Tuesday night on The New York Times’ website. Citing his work on gun safety, obesity and curbing smoking, he told the paper — with a smile: “If there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

During his mayoral tenure, which ended last year, Bloomberg’s administration set up gun-buying stings in other states to highlight what it said were illegal sales. He and former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which spread its message through such means as a $12 million ad campaign last year; the group is now part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg made nearly $14 million in federal campaign contributions for gun-control candidates in the 2012 elections alone. His super PAC spent more than $2 million in a 2013 Democratic primary in a special congressional election in Chicago, where his favored candidate got the seat.

Bloomberg’s efforts sometimes spurred criticism that the New Yorker was butting into other people’s politics, and gun-rights groups have portrayed him as overreaching and out of touch with the views of millions of gun owners.

On hearing of Bloomberg’s new initiative, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, told the Times: “He’s got the money to waste. So I guess he’s free to do so.”

Pratt didn’t immediately return a call Wednesday.

In a major setback for gun-control advocates, President Barack Obama’s plan for broader background checks and proposals for a ban on military-style assault rifles and limits on ammunition capacity failed last year in Congress.

An Associated Press-GfK poll in December found 52 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws, 31 percent wanted them left as they are and 15 percent said they should be loosened.

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