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Litigation Highlight: Juzumas and Second Amendment Challenges to NY’s Longarms Surrender Requirement

Last month, in Juzumas v. Nassau County, a Second Circuit panel ruled per curiam that New York’s statute governing licenses for firearm possession mandated that the defendant surrender his longarms once his pistol license was revoked. However, because the County policy purporting to implement this policy was unclear, the Court vacated the district court’s ruling and remanded the issue of whether and when the defendant can again possess longarms, and whether the County’s policy complies with the Second Amendment. The panel cited the County’s inability to “provide a complete description of when it will be lawful for Juzumas to acquire longarms” and mentioned that the County should be able to offer up these facts and their application “presumably on remand.” (The plaintiff did not challenge NY’s state law, but only the County policy.)  

Juzumas received a pistol license from Nassau County in 2003. Five years later, he was arrested for conspiring to import controlled substances. Under the County’s law, the officer who arrested him confiscated his pistol license and pistols. In 2012, Juzumas pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conspiracy to defraud the United States connected to his 2008 arrest. Several years later, the County sent him a letter stating his pistol license was revoked. The letter provided three bases for the license revocation: arrest history, conviction, and lack of good moral character.

After receiving the letter, Juzumas gave his longarms to various people in his life. He tried to appeal his pistol license revocation but was unsuccessful.

Juzumas later sued the County in federal court, asserting that the County’s requirement that he surrender possession and ownership of his longarms after his pistol license was revoked is unconstitutional as applied to him. Because he did not challenge the state law, he claimed that the County’s policy interprets the NY Penal Law broader than the state law itself.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Nassau County, holding that the County acted to enforce a mandatory provision of state law and so was not a proper defendant under Vives v. City of New York (2d Cir. 2008). In that case, the Second Circuit  ruled that a municipality cannot be held liable for its enforcement of state law so long as it adopted a conscious policy of enforcing the specific law in question. Further, the District Court granted Nassau County’s motion for summary judgment on Juzuma’s First, Second, and Fourth Amendment Claims, related Monell claims (claims commonly included in lawsuits against police officers to get at county funds), and the § 1983 claim. However, it concluded that Juzumas did have a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim because he should have received a hearing before being permanently deprived of his long guns. Juzumas appealed the grant of summary judgment on the Second and Fourth Amendment claims. As mentioned above, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court in part but remanded for the district court to address part of Juzumas’s Second Amendment claim, and its related Monell claim.

The specific New York law at issue was NY Penal Law § 400.00(1) which governs a citizen’s eligibility to own a firearm in the state. In New York, it is necessary to have a license in order to possess a firearm. The section provides that: “no license shall be issued or renewed except for an applicant” who meets various listed requirements. Relevant here, some of the requirements are that the applicant is “of good moral character,” and that there is “no good cause” to deny the applicant the license. Under the state law, local counties are charged with licensing responsibility within their domains. Of note, there is no licensing scheme for longarms. However, the NY Law does touch on long gun possession by someone who has had their pistol license revoked, and some of those provisions are at dispute in the case.

There are several ways for someone’s pistol license to be revoked in the state. Some are mentioned in § 400.00(11)(a), providing that if a licensee is convicted of a felony or “serious offense,” and that if the holder “at any time becom[es] ineligible to obtain a license under this section,” that fact “shall operate as a revocation of the license.” Within § 400.00(11), subsection (c) states that whenever someone’s license is suspended under subsection (a) or (b), then the person “shall surrender such license to the appropriate licensing official and any and all firearms, rifles, or shotguns owned or possessed by such person shall be surrendered to an appropriate law enforcement agency.” This subsection, the Court writes, connects longarm possession and pistol licenses.

Nassau County adopted a policy that implemented the state’s framework. State law requires surrender of long guns upon a pistol license revocation, but is silent on the acquisition of new long arms after revocation. The County’s written policy does not state whether someone can possess long guns after revocation before being issued another pistol license. Even absent a clear written policy, Juzumas claimed that the County made it so that someone who has had their pistol license revoked can only possess long arms again after applying for, and being issued, another pistol license.

Juzumas claimed that the County’s policy goes beyond enforcing state law. He argued that state law only requires the surrender of long guns when a pistol license has been revoked based on the specific factors in § 400.00(11) and not when based on other reasons contained in other subsections. Because he claimed the law goes further than the state requires, Juzumas argued that it violated his Second Amendment right to possess long guns. He also challenged the County’s position that despite the absence of a state licensing regime for longarms, he is prohibited from possessing a longarm unless he gets a pistol license.

The Court held that Juzumas misread NY Penal Law § 400.00. Looking to the plain meaning of the text and legislative history, the Court read the entire statute together, noting that “under this section” in § 400.00(11)(a) refers to all of § 400.00. Reasons someone might lose or be ineligible for a pistol license appear throughout § 400.00. Specifically, language added in 2013 by the New York State Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act provided that someone can be ineligible to obtain a license for reasons not enumerated in the (11)(a) subsection. When explaining this, the Court commented in a footnote that NY courts frequently uphold pistol license revocations under § 400.00(11) without referencing any enumerated reason.

Further, the Court held that the County was reasonably applying state law. Penal Law § 400.00(11)(c) mandates that guns “shall be removed and declared a nuisance” if they are not surrendered after a license revocation. The Court explained that the language “shall” within a statute invokes something mandatory. Therefore, the Court held that Juzumas’s actual issue would be with the New York state law, and not the County. Because Juzumas had not challenged the constitutionality of the state law, the Court ended its discussion of this issue here.

Similarly, the Court also affirmed the dismissal of Juzumas’s Fourth Amendment claim, explaining that the County’s policy is merely an enforcement of state law. The County is therefore not the proper defendant.

However, the Court held that the County’s policy described in a 2015 letter does go further than state law requires. The policy described does not allow Juzumas to buy longarms until he is issued a new pistol license. But Juzumas claimed that the state law only provides for the surrender of longarms that are in his possession at the time of the license revocation and not a prohibition on the acquisition of new ones. The district court didn’t address this challenge and just determined that it was unclear whether Juzumas could possess longarms again under Nassau County’s policy.

The Court noted that the County never offered a clear declaration on its policy of longarm possession after the revocation of a pistol license. The County had offered various explanations of the policy. In its 2015 letter, it stated that Juzumas could not possess a longarm until his license was reinstated. Then at deposition, a Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) lieutenant testified “variably” to whether this was the policy. A department policy provided that if no legal impediment exists, then there does not appear to be a prohibition on someone acquiring new longarms even if his pistol license remains revoked. To add even more confusion, the County declared at oral argument that they no longer use the letter that Juzumas received in 2015, and that someone whose longarms were surrendered when his license was revoked can go out and buy other longarms after.

The Court remanded Juzumas’s Second Amendment challenge because of the lack of explicit County law governing whether Juzumas can possess a longarm after his pistol license was revoked.