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Lesson Plan: New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al.
Kevin P. Bruen, in His Official Capacity as Superintendent of New York State Police, et al.

Second Circuit Court of Appeals Summary Order (August 26, 2020)
Supreme Court Docket No. 20-843 (docketed on December 23, 2020) 
Certiorari granted by the United States Supreme Court (April 26, 2021)
Oral Argument Scheduled for November 3, 2021

Case Information


Question Presented

Whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit a law-abiding person from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense.



In September 2014, Robert Nash of New York applied for a concealed carry license. Nash was motivated to carry a gun because of recent robberies in his neighborhood. He had recently participated in a gun-training course. Nash had no criminal history. However, the license was denied. The government concluded that Nash did not demonstrate a special need, and thus lacked a proper cause. 

In September 2014, Brendan Koch of New York also applied for a concealed carry license. Koch explained that self-defense and extensive firearm experience motivated his desire to carry a gun. Koch had no criminal history. Koch’s permit was also denied. The government found that Koch did not demonstrate a special need, and thus lacked a proper cause. 

Nash and Koch (the Petitioners) sued two New York state officials: Superintendent of New York State Policy, Kevin P. Bruen (originally George Beach II), and Justice Richard McNally. New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (“NYSRPA”), a gun-rights advocacy group, joined this lawsuit on behalf of all other New Yorkers who cannot carry a gun because they lack the requisite proper cause. 

Challenged Law

Under New York law, anyone who wishes to keep a gun inside their home or bear a gun outside of their home is generally prohibited from doing so without a license. N.Y. Penal Law §§ 265.01–04, 265.20(a)(3); N.Y Penal Law § 400.00. New York bans open carry in every form, but a resident may apply to a “licensing officer” for a concealed carry license. 

Under this law, “[n]o license shall be issued or renewed” unless the officer finds the applicant exhibits good moral character, lacks a criminal or mental-illness record, and “no good cause exists for the denial of the license.” N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(1)(a)–(n). Petitioners argue this discretionary standard operates as a de facto ban on the ability of law-abiding residents to carry a concealed handgun. See Kachalsky v. County of Westchester, 701 F.3d 91, 86 (2d Cir. 2012) (“New York bans carrying handguns openly, applicant[s] . . . who desire to carry a handgun outside the home and who do not fit within one of the employment categories must demonstrate proper cause”); see also N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(2)(f)

To receive a license to carry “without regard to employment or place of possession,” an applicant must prove that “proper cause exists for the issuance thereof.” Kachalsky, 701 F.3d at 86. “Proper cause” is not defined in the statutory scheme, but “a substantial body of law instructing licensing officials on the application of [the proper cause] standard” exists. Id. The state imposes a very high standard to receive a license, as an applicant “must ‘demonstrate a special need for self protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). For New York residents, a “generalized desire to carry a concealed weapon to protect one’s person and property does not constitute ‘proper cause.’” Id. It is not enough for a resident of good moral character who wishes to exercise a constitutional right. Likewise, living or working in a dangerous neighborhood is also insufficient. Id. at 86–87. The only way to establish the requisite proper cause to receive a license is to convince the licensing officer that the applicant is more deserving than other law-abiding people, and that the applicant seeks the license for a special self-defense reason. As a result, most New York residents cannot receive a license to carry. 

Procedural History

Nash and Koch filed their lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. The district court dismissed the case. It agreed with McNally that “Nash and Koch do not satisfy the ‘proper cause’ requirement because they do not ‘face any special or unique danger to [their] life.’” App. 6. The district court found that Kachalsky foreclosed the claims. App.2, 11–13. Nash and Koch appealed the decision to the Second Circuit, which summarily affirmed the dismissal.

Nash and Koch next appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court granted certiorari on August 26, 2021 on a single question presented: whether the denial of an application to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense purposes violated the Second Amendment. 


U.S. Constitution, Amendment II: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Sources and Materials

Supreme Court Filings

Briefs from the Petitioners and Respondents:

Amicus Briefs in Support of Petitioners:

Amicus Briefs in Support of Respondents:

Supreme Court Cases

United States v. Miller, et al., 307 U.S. 174 (1939)

Holding: Under the National Firearms Act of 1934, regulating a sawed-off shotgun that travels across state lines is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s interstate-commerce power. 


District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)

Holding: The Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.


McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010)

Holding: The Second Amendment also applies to state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment’s incorporation doctrine. 


Caetano v. Massachusetts, 136 S.Ct. 1027 (2016) (per curiam)

Holding: Reinforcing Heller, the Court found that banning personal possession of a “stun gun” violated the Second Amendment notwithstanding the fact that such weapons were not “readily adaptable to use in the military.” The Court remanded the case without providing additional instructions to the lower court or any insight as to its Second Amendment stance.


Lower Court Cases

Historical Sources

English and Common Law Sources

Revolutionary-Era Sources

Framing-Era Sources

Post-Framing Sources

Secondary Sources

Tournament Instructions

Using historical materials related to the Second Amendment, and the precedents of the United States Supreme Court, teams of two high-school students will write an appellate brief, and present oral arguments, addressing this question:

Petitioners will argue that the Second Amendment prohibits states from denying a law-abiding person a license to carry a handgun outside the home.

Respondents will argue that the Second Amendment does not prohibit states from denying a law-abiding person a license to carry a handgun outside the home. 

Phase 1 - Research and Write Your Brief

Coaches can register their teams at the Institute of Competition Sciences. After registering, teachers should contact the Harlan Institute and Ashbrook at info@HarlanInstitute.org. We will assign teams to argue on behalf of the Petitioners or the Respondents.

Teams will research and write their briefs. The brief must be a minimum of 2,000 words. Please download this template. The brief should have the following sections:

  1. Table of Cited Authorities: List all of the original sources, and other documents you cite in your brief.
  2. Summary of Argument: State your position succinctly in 250 words or less.
  3. Argument: Structure your argument based on at least five primary historical sources and at least three Supreme Court precedents. The more authorities you cite, the stronger your argument will be–and the more likely your team will advance.
  4. Conclusion: Summarize your argument, and argue how the Supreme Court should decide this issue.

Be sure to proofread your work. The work must be yours, and you may not seek help from anyone else–including attorneys or law students. Students who submit plagiarized briefs will be disqualified.

Please review the winning submissions from previous years:

Phase 2 - Virtual Mentoring

Teams that register before November 1, 2021 will be invited to participate in a virtual mentoring session. These sessions will be hosted during the week of November 15, 2021. The Harlan Institute will match each class with a mentor from our network. These sessions will be helpful to finalize your briefs and prepare your preliminary round arguments. 

Phase 3 - Preliminary Round

For the preliminary round, each team must prepare a YouTube video. The argument must be at least 15 minutes in length. Coaches will ask their students the following ten questions:

  1. What does the Second Amendment protect?
  2. Why did the Framers include the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights?
  3. What are the limits of the Second Amendment’s protection?
  4. What weapons does the term “arms” include?
  5. What is the difference, if any, between the verbs “keep” and “bear”?
  6. What is a militia and why did the Framers refer to it in the Second Amendment?
  7. How should courts determine if a gun control regulation is considered “long standing”?
  8. What is strict scrutiny? Intermediate scrutiny? Rational-basis review?
  9. Is there a difference between openly-carrying a firearm, and conceal-carrying a firearm?
  10. How should the Court consider the public safety implications of licenses to carry firearms?

Teams will upload a PDF of their brief, as well as a link to their YouTube video to the Institute of Competition Sciences. The deadline for the preliminary round will be December 15, 2021. 

Phase 4 - Virtual Rounds

We will hold the Virtual Rounds over Zoom:

This video offers five tips to prepare for oral argument:

Phase 5 - Championship Round Rounds

The top teams will receive a free trip to Washington, D.C. to argue the championship round before federal judges on April 25-26, 2022.

Good luck! And register today.