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ALBANY -- A federal court on Tuesday upheld most of New York's SAFE Act gun control measure adopted nearly a year ago, but struck down a key provision that limited ammunition magazines to seven bullets.
Chief U.S. District Judge William Sketny in Buffalo agreed with gun owner groups including the State Rifle & Pistol Association that the magazine provision in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's law was arbitrary and flawed. Cuomo said it was aimed at curbing assault weapons and gun violence.
Sketny said the provision was "largely an arbitrary restriction that impermissibly infringes on the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."
He said the state's argument for the need for a seven-bullet limit is "tenuous, strained, and unsupported in the record," according to Tuesday's decision.
Sketny echoed the argument of gun owners who said the SAFE Act unfairly targets legal owners. "It stretches the bounds of this court's deference to the predictive judgments of the legislature to suppose that those intent on doing harm . . . will load their weapon with only the permitted seven rounds," he said.
"In this sense, the provision is not 'substantially related' to the important government interest in public safety and crime prevention," the judge stated.
"Our Constitution is designed to maximize individual freedoms within a frame work for ordered liberty," the judge concluded. "The Supreme Court found that the right to 'keep and bear arms,' enshrined in the Second Amendment, was among those individual freedoms. But the Court also noted that the right was not unlimited."
The bill -- which mandates that all gun sales be done through licensed dealers and requires background checks of ammunition buyers -- made New York the first state to check ammunition purchases in "real time."
The NY2A Grassroots Coalition, a gun owners group, plans to appeal.
The group's spokesman, Jake Palmateer, said, "We will bring the fight against the SAFE Act to Albany next Wednesday as we protest the governor's State of the State Address. We will continue to prepare for the 2014 election cycle."
The state and the gun groups could appeal to a higher court.
A spokesman for Cuomo and the Rifle & Pistol Association didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
The law was adopted in January a month after the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Opponents ridiculed the law, saying seven-bullet magazines weren't widely manufactured.
Weeks later, Cuomo and the Legislature amended the law so that it no longer prohibited magazines that could hold more than seven bullets. But it was still illegal to carry more than seven bullets in larger magazines more commonly made to hold 10 bullets.
Cuomo argued no one needs more than seven bullets to legally use a gun for hunting or target shooting outside of competitions.He said the provision was intended to limit the number of rounds a shooter in a crime could expend before reloading, which could provide an opportunity to stop a tragedy.