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Buffalo Churches Win Gun Law Injunction

At least temporarily, New York state is not allowed to enforce its ban on guns in churches.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sinatra of the Western District court in Buffalo ruled late Thursday that the state cannot prevent pastors or churchgoers who hold conceal carry permits from having their pistols in churches. The decision only grants a preliminary injunction while the case proceeds. The state has until Oct. 28 to reply and a hearing will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 3 in Sinatra’s Buffalo courtroom during which Sinatra will consider a preliminary injunction.

New York lawmakers rewrote the state’s gun laws last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the state’s old system of granting permits to carry handguns outside the home. Among the provisions of the new law was a ban on guns in places of worship and other locations deemed “sensitive.” Sinatra did say in Thursday’s opinion the pastors are likely to succeed on the merits of their Second and 14th Amendment claim.

“Ample Supreme Court precedent addressing the individual’s right to keep and bear arms — from Heller and McDonald to its June 2022 decision in Bruen — dictates that New York’s new place of worship restriction is equally ,” Sinatra wrote. “In Bruen, the court made the Second Amendment test crystal clear: regulation in this area is permissible only if the government demonstrates that the regulation is consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of sufficiently analogous regulations. As set forth below, New York fails that test. The state’s exclusion is, instead, inconsistent with the nation’s historical traditions, impermissibly infringing on the right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”

Pastor Jimmie Hardaway Jr. of Trinity Baptist Church in Niagara Falls and Bishop Larry Boyd of Open Praise Full Gospel Baptist Church in Buffalo said in court filings that the state’s ban violated their Second Amendment rights. Thursday’s decision will apply to other faith leaders and congregations across New York, while the lawsuit plays out. There are also several other ongoing legal challenges to the state’s new laws.

Both Hardaway and Boyd wrote in their court filing they regularly carried their weapons in church while Boyd noted he was particularly worried because his church’s location in the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood of Buffalo is in an area with high crime, violence and gang-related incidents. Sinatra’s opinion reasoned that churches, in particular, are unsecured, spiritual places that members of the public frequent as part of their daily routines and encounter vast numbers of people there, unlike legislative assemblies, polling places and courthouses, which are civic locations that one visits sporadically and where a bad-intentioned armed person could disrupt key functions of democracy. Legislative assemblies and courthouses, Sinatra reasoned, are typically secured locations where uniform lack of firearms is a condition of entry. The state’s brief, Sinatra ruled, does not show an American tradition justifying the state’s inclusion of churches and houses of worship as sensitive places in its July gun laws.

“Hardaway and Boyd are ordinary, law-abiding citizens to which the Second Amendment applies,” Sinatra wrote. “As it did for the petitioners in Bruen, the Second Amendment’s plain text thus presumptively guarantees Plaintiffs’ right to ‘bear’ arms in public for self-defense — and it does so well at places of worship, which are open to all comers.”

A spokeswoman for the New York Attorney General told Thomson Reuters that Attorney General Letitia James was reviewing the decision and considering whether or not to appeal the ruling.

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