The New York Police Department wrongly denied a Brooklyn man a firearm license because of his many traffic violations, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, a decision that could stop the city from considering moral character when deciding whether someone can have a gun.
The case in the Southern District of New York centered on Joseph Srour, a Brooklyn man rejected twice after he applied in 2018 to keep rifles, guns and shotguns in his home for protection.
Mr. Srour challenged the department’s decision to reject his application based on the city’s administrative code, which allows a licensing agency, in this case the Police Department, to deny a firearm permit if it determines that an applicant lacks “good moral character” or for “other good cause.”
In his decision, Judge John Cronan, nominated to the bench in 2019 by then President Donald Trump, wrote that the department used “broad and unrestrained” standards when considering Mr. Srour’s case.
“Because that unconstitutional exercise of discretion occurs every time a licensing official applies or has applied these provisions, they each are facially unconstitutional,” he wrote, referring to the “good moral character” condition cited by the Police Department.
The ruling was among the latest to stem from a 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which overturned century-old state gun regulations and found that citizens had a broad right to carry concealed weapons.
That decision led New York and other states with long traditions of restrictions to seek new ways to limit the carrying of guns. In New York, the legislature passed a law banning firearms in places like colleges, hospitals, subways, parks, stadiums and Times Square. Hawaii banned firearms on public beaches, a law that was quickly challenged by three Maui residents.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has heard repeated challenges to the New York law, reinstating it after lower courts struck down key portions.
The ruling by Judge Cronan, which is likely to be heard by the appeals court, could allow people with more serious records than Mr. Srour’s to own a gun if it stands, said David Pucino, legal director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“It would be serious problem,” he said. “These kinds of decisions have the potential to cripple the ability of law enforcement and other regulating authorities to enforce the laws that are on the books. This is an attack on that.”
The New York Police Department referred comment to the city’s law department. “Firearm licensing regulations crafted by the state and the city are lawful, consistent with the Court’s decision in Bruen, and necessary to keep the public safe,” the city said in a statement.
Mr. Srour had no criminal convictions, but the New York police twice denied his application to keep firearms in his home based in part on his two arrests, 28 traffic violations, 24 license suspensions and six driver’s license revocations. He also had two criminal court summonses for creating a wake while operating a jet ski, according to the lawsuit he filed in 2022.
The circumstances surrounding Mr. Srour’s arrests, his failure to disclose them on his application and his poor driving history “portray a lack of good moral character and disregard for the law,” the city wrote in its notice rejecting Mr. Srour’s application.
Judge Cronan wrote that those communications were not “models of clarity in explaining the precise legal grounds for denying his applications to possess firearms” and reflected “unfettered discretion.”
“Without doubt, the very notions of ‘good moral character’ and ‘good cause’ are inherently exceedingly broad and discretionary,” he wrote. “Someone may be deemed to have good moral character by one person, yet a very morally flawed character by another.”
Mr. Srour, 49, who sells baby cribs and mattresses, declined to comment on the decision because the case is still pending.
His lawyer, Amy Bellantoni, called the ruling “well reasoned and legally sound.”
“It is a breath of fresh air to finally receive a decision from the downstate federal bench that is true to the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent on a Second Amendment challenge,” she said in a statement.