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RICHMOND BORO GUN CLUB, INC. v. CITY OF NEW YORK

August 10, 1995

RICHMOND BORO GUN CLUB, INC., NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, NEW YORK STATE RIFLE AND PISTOL ASSOCIATION, INC., and JOHN DOES I THROUGH VI, Plaintiffs, against CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK, and LEE P. BROWN in his official capacity as POLICE COMMISSIONER FOR THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendants.

REENA RAGGI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE


The opinion of the court was delivered by: REENA RAGGI

and ORDER

 RAGGI, District Judge:

 Plaintiffs, Richmond Boro Gun Club, Inc., the National Rifle Association of America ("NRA"), the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc., and six New York City residents identified simply as "John Does I through VI," bring this action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the City of New York and its Police Commissioner. At issue is New York City Local Law 78 of 1991, which amends the city's Administrative Code to criminalize the possession or transfer of certain "assault weapons" and "ammunition feeding devices" within the five boroughs. N.Y.C. Administrative Code, Ch.1 § 10-131, and Ch.3 § 10-301 et seq. (Supp. 1992).

 Plaintiffs raise the following federal and state law challenges to the local law: (1) it is preempted by those federal laws and regulations establishing the Civilian Marksmanship Program, (2) it deprives them of rights to liberty and property without due process, (3) it is preempted by New York State law, (4) it is unconstitutionally vague, (5) it serves no rational purpose and thus violates the Constitution's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and (6) it grants excessive rule-making authority to New York City's Police Commissioner in further violation of the Due Process Clause. They further complain (7) that the Commissioner has exercised his authority in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

 Plaintiffs initially sought a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Local Law 78. This application was referred to Chief Magistrate Judge A. Simon Chrein who, on April 16, 1992, recommended that no injunction be entered. The court adopted this recommendation on May 29, 1992. In the interim, defendants moved for summary judgment. This motion was also referred to Chief Magistrate Judge Chrein. On February 23, 1994, he filed his report recommending that the court grant defendants' motion. Plaintiffs have filed objections to this report and defendants have responded.

 Factual Background

 On July 30, 1991, at the request of then-Mayor David W. Dinkins and with the support of then-Police Commissioner Lee P. Brown as well as various other city officials, the New York City Council enacted Local Law 78 prohibiting the possession or transfer within New York City of "assault weapons" and certain ammunition feeding devices. Administrative Code §§ 10-303.1(a), 10-306, 10-131(i) (6).

 The rationale for the legislation, which went into effect January 11, 1992, is stated in its preamble:

 
Legislative intent. It is hereby declared and found by the council that certain guns, commonly referred to as semiautomatic "assault weapons," are generally recognized as particularly suitable for military and not sporting purposes. The council further finds and declares that ammunition feeding devices which are capable of holding more than five rounds of ammunition and which are capable of being used in assault weapons are particularly suitable for military and not sporting purposes. The council further finds and declares that because assault weapons and such ammunition feeding devices pose a grave threat to law enforcement officers and to the public, it is necessary to impose restrictions on the possession, sale and use of such weapons and ammunition feeding devices. It is not, however, the council's intent to place additional restrictions on the possession, sale or use of rifles and shotguns which are primarily designed and intended for hunting, target practice or other legitimate sports or recreational activities.

 The ordinance defines "assault weapons" to include these items:

 
(a) Any semiautomatic centerfire or rimfire rifle or semiautomatic shotgun which has one or more of the following features:
 
1. folding or telescoping stock or no stock;
 
2. pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
 
3. bayonet mount;
 
4. flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor;
 
5. barrel shroud;
 
6. grenade launcher; or
 
7. modifications of such features, or other features, determined by rule of the commissioner to be particularly suitable for military and not sporting purposes. In addition, the commissioner shall, by rule, designate specific semiautomatic centerfire or rimfire rifles or semiautomatic shotguns, identified by make, model and/or manufacturer's name, as within the definition of assault weapon, if the commissioner determines that such weapons are particularly suitable for military and not sporting purposes.
 
(b) Any shotgun with a revolving-cylinder magazine.
 
(c) Any part, or combination of parts, designed or redesigned or intended to readily convert a rifle or shotgun into an assault weapon.
 
(d) "Assault weapon" shall not include any rifle or shotgun modified to render it permanently inoperative.

 § 10-301(16).

 The law provides for New York City's Police Commissioner to promulgate a list of specific firearms that fall within the assault weapon ban. § 10-301(16)(a)(7). Pursuant to this authority, the Commissioner established a Firearms Review Committee comprised of individuals within the Police Department with expertise in firearms. Based on the recommendations of this Committee, the Commissioner issued a list of firearm makes and models to be treated as assault weapons.

 The law makes any illegal possession or transfer of an assault weapon or any of the proscribed ammunition feeding devices a criminal misdemeanor punishable as a first unaggravated offense by imprisonment of not more than fifteen days and/or a fine of up to $ 300. Subsequent offenses are also deemed misdemeanors, but expose a defendant to imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $ 5,000. §§ 10-303.1(b), 10-310. Possession or transfer of ammunition feeding devices not designed for use with a handgun and holding more than seventeen rounds of ammunition is punishable by a fine of not more than $ 1000 and/or by imprisonment of not more than one year. § 10-131(i) (14). The same conduct carries a possible civil penalty of up to $ 1,000 for an unaggravated first violation and up to $ 10,000 for each violation thereafter. §§ 10-303.1(c), 10-131(i)(15).

 Certain exceptions apply to the local law's prohibitions against assault weapons and specified ammunition feeding devices. § 10-305. Most notably, the prohibitions do not apply to state and city police or peace officers carrying such items in the lawful performance of their duties. § 10-305(c). Neither do they apply to members of the federal or state armed forces who are authorized by law to carry these weapons. § 10-305(c) and (d). The law does not, however, exempt persons participating in the federal government's Civilian Marksmanship Program. § 10-305(1).

 Local Law 78 provides no "grandfather clause" protection for those already in possession of the proscribed assault weapons or ammunition feeding devices. It did, however, grant those persons holding permits for such devices a grace period of ninety days from the effective date of the law either to surrender them to the appropriate authorities or lawfully to remove them from New York City. In January of 1992, the Police Commissioner notified all permit holders that the deadline for compliance was April 18, 1992.

 Persons holding assault weapons or proscribed ammunition feeding devices without permit were expected to surrender these immediately to authorities, but the law immunized those who complied with this provision from prosecution for unlawful possession. §§ 10-305(f), 10-131 (16). Indeed, the option for such ...


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