By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Rifle Association's affiliate in New York filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the state's new gun control measures, passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The state Rifle & Pistol Association charged that New York's laws banning assault weapons and limiting the size of ammunition magazines violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to bear arms.
The lawsuit, filed in Buffalo federal court, also alleged that the law's "radically broadened" definition of assault weapons is unconstitutionally vague.
"This is an action to vindicate the right of the people of the State of New York to keep and bear arms," the lawsuit said.
It comes on the same week that backers of gun control in the Senate dropped their bid to re-impose a federal ban on assault weapons, a measure that had faced considerable opposition in both houses of Congress.
Democratic lawmakers instead opted to scale back White House proposals for sweeping gun-control measures, saying they would focus on a bill that penalize "straw purchasers" who help criminals to avoid background checks. That measure has broader support in Congress.
New York's gun control measures, known as the SAFE Act, were enacted in January, making New York the first state to pass tougher laws following the December 14 mass shooting in Newtown that left 20 children and six adults dead as well as the shooter.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office will defend the law in court, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said in a statement that the law makes New Yorkers safer while "ensuring constitutional protections to responsible gun owners."
A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the law after the state legislature passed it within hours of its introduction, did not immediately return a request for comment.
The lawsuit is one of a handful of court challenges to the new regulations. But Thursday's complaint marks the first time that a group officially linked to the powerful NRA has weighed in on New York's new law.
Other plaintiffs in the case include gun dealers, other gun owner groups and several individual gun owners.
In addition to Second Amendment claims, the lawsuit alleged that the SAFE Act violated equal protection rights by allowing owners to load 10 rounds of ammunition into their guns at shooting ranges or in competition while limiting them to seven rounds when at home.
It also claimed that the law violates interstate commerce protections by requiring all gun sales to be made by sellers who are licensed and based in New York, thereby excluding out-of-state dealers.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day that Vice President Joseph Biden, who has led the Obama administration's effort to pass new federal gun control measures, joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall to call on Congress to adopt the president's proposals.
Colorado became the second state this week to pass stricter gun control laws since Newtown, expanding background checks and banning magazines with more than 15 rounds.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax, Editing by Scott Malone; Editing by David Gregorio)