In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals upheld the Second Department’s decision in Hunters For Deer v Town of Smithtown that the Town may not regulate discharge setbacks for bow and arrow in a manner inconsistent with State law. In that decision, the Second Department held that long bows could not be defined as firearms and that the State’s hunting laws preempt local ordinances when it comes to the regulation of bows.
As previously discussed here, the lawsuit dealt with state bow hunting regulations that were in conflict with certain discharge regulations enacted by the Town of Smithtown in 2014.
In a terse decision, the Court of Appeals skirted preemption arguments raised below and at oral argument by narrowing the issue, stating “the only question properly before us…is whether Town Law 130(27) authorizes defendant Town of Smithtown to regulate the discharge of ‘bows’ pursuant to its authority to regulate the discharge of ‘firearms’ under that statute.”
Applying principles of statutory construction, the Court found that “while the term ‘firearm’ is undefined in the Town Law, construing it in accordance with its ‘usual and commonly understood meaning’, the term ‘firearm’ does not encompass a ‘bow,’ and we are unpersuaded that the Legislature intended otherwise when it used the term in the Town Law.”
However, in a footnote raising procedural issues, the Court declined to determine whether a municipality has the authority to regulate the discharge of bows under municipal home rule or whether the State’s hunting law preempts such regulations. The Court went on to state, in the footnote, that Smithtown effectively conceded that the Town Code provision was invalid.
Accordingly, Town Law § 130 (27) does not authorize Smithtown to regulate the discharge of bows as firearms. Moreover, the Court’s affirmation of the Second Department’s decision suggests that municipalities statewide cannot enforce hunting regulations more restrictive than the State’s.