Thursday, December 12, 2013

You cannot have a "black cat keychain" in New York

Now that we have a rock-solid right to own weapons under the Second Amendment, the federal courts  have to sort through the challenges to various laws that rein in the American impulse to possess guns and other tools of violence. In this case, the Court of Appeals is asked to strike down a law that prohibits the "black cat keychain."

The case is Small v. Rice, a summary order decided on November 26. The New York Penal Law makes it illegal to possess "any firearm, ... plastic knuckles, metal knuckles." Do you see the word "any"? The Court of Appeals says the word "any" means there may be more than one type of "metal knuckles" covered under the statute and that possession of "any" of them is illegal. Plaintiff says the statute is vague and therefore void under the Due Process Clause. He says that it is not clear that the "black cat keychain" is clearly proscribed under the Penal Law. But it is clear, the Second Circuit (Raggi, Pooler and Wesley) says.

The Second Circuit ruling includes a picture of the "black cat keychain." You rarely see visual images in Court of Appeals rulings, but a picture of the keychain is essential to understanding what's going on here. This is the picture from the Second Circuit ruling: