We have now heard the oral arguments in the case challenging New York’s draconian and subjective “may issue” carry laws, and while we’ve heard from dozens of attorneys on both sides of the argument, we haven’t heard much at all from the individual gun owners who are hoping to see the state’s carry regime declared unconstitutional. Until now, anyway.
Robert Nash, who’s one of two gun owners suing the state, has never before spoken to the press about his involvement in the case, but in an exclusive interview with Bearing Arms, the gun owner lays out the byzantine process of applying for a license and explains why he refused to accept a judge’s decision to deny him an unrestricted carry license and chose instead to take his case to court.
Nash says that in Rensselaer County, where he lives, the process of applying for a concealed carry license goes something like this: first you gather together all of your necessary paperwork, including proof of training and four character references from individuals who will testify to your suitability to carry a gun. Then you hand over all of your documentary evidence along with several hundred dollars and you wait. Other New York State counties follow a similar procedure.
For Nash, it took about five months before he found out he’d been granted a “restricted” license, which allows him to take his pistol with him only to hunt or target shoot. Carrying for self-defense, however, is still prohibited with a restricted license, and if you’re caught carrying without a permit it’s a felony charge and a mandatory prison term upon conviction. So after a few months with his restricted license, Nash applied to have those restrictions removed.
As Nash explains, under New York’s law county officials have broad discretion and leeway in terms of granting or denying licenses. In Rensselaer County, there are multiple judges assigned to decide the outcome of permit applications, and each of them may have very different views on the right to carry. According to Nash, there are several judges in the county who do issue unrestricted permits based on a general concern over personal safety, but there are also judges who rarely if ever find that an applicant has shown “good cause” or a “justifiable need” to carry a gun in self-defense. Guess who Nash ended up with?
“I submitted a letter to him [the judge assigned to Nash’s application] asking him to remove my restrictions based on local crime in the area,” Nash tells Bearing Arms. “There was a string of robberies which you’ll see in the case, and it was the robberies and just for self-defense that were the reasons I wanted those restrictions removed. And he said ‘no.’ Other judges in the county, I could have submitted the same letter and they would have said ‘yes” in a minute. Even for lesser reasons. I’ve had other people that I know just say they want to protect their wife and kids and they get approved. Same county. Different judge.”
This is a perfect example of the subjective nature of New York’s carry permitting laws. Not only do applicants have to demonstrate a justifiable need to carry a firearm in self-defense, it’s up to the issuing authorities to decide what that justifiable need looks like. You may be lucky enough to get a judge or a county sheriff who believes that the right to bear arms is indeed a constitutional right and approves all permits from those legal gun owners who meet the training qualifications and submits their proper paperwork, or you could end up getting a judge who doesn’t believe that anyone should be walking around with a lawfully carried gun on their person. Your ability to exercise your Second Amendment rights aren’t based on the Constitution in New York, but on the whims of those in a position of authority.
Nash’s denial didn’t sit well with him, and so a few months after his application had been rejected, he reached out to Tom King, the head of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association to let him know what had happened.
“He says ‘I know all about this, you’re not the only one, but I don’t know if we have a case yet. Let me talk to someone at the NRA.’ And he did, and he got back to me right away. And he said, ‘Look, I think we have a case. Here’s the roadmap they want to go with, but are you willing to stick your neck out over this? This is going to be a high-profile, your name’s going to be everywhere kind of thing.’ And without hesitation I said yes.”
So here we are several years later, with Nash, co-plaintiff Brandon Koch, and the New York State Rifle Association squaring off with the state of New York in the Supreme Court (the National Rifle Association is financially supporting the challenge, but is not a named party in the lawsuit). Nash says he’s not expecting the Supreme Court to overturn every carry licensing law in existence, but he is hoping that a majority of justices strike down the subjective “may issue” laws on the books in New York and a handful of other states.
“I just want to get New York’s law fixed. That was my goal from Day One. I don’t think that ‘proper cause’ should be in there at all, and I hope that the justices, when they’re reading New York State’s law and comparing it to the Second Amendment, I hope that they deem that this proper cause requirement violates the Second Amendment.”
Nash is far from alone in his wishes. There are tens of millions of Americans hoping the Court does the same, me included. I appreciate Robert Nash standing up for his own Second Amendment rights and the rights of every other law-abiding citizen, and I’m looking forward to checking in with him again in just a few weeks after the oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen take place.