In any other country, it would be shocking to meet a man such as Robert Nash, as Nash doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would challenge the power of mayors, governors and judges who’ve put themselves between law-abiding Americans and their civil rights. Nash, to all appearances, seems like a man of no special distinction. He is a humble,
middle-aged man who works in a furniture store. He is deferential to a fault. He is easy to talk to, not outwardly political or ideological and has a face that could be found just about anywhere in America.
Nash, nonetheless, is a plaintiff at the center of a constitutional battle that could force state governments to get out of the way of our Second Amendment right to bear arms outside of our homes.
Nash simply tried to obtain a concealed-carry license in a “may-issue” state. When he did, he happened to get a judge (his licensing official) who doesn’t believe law-abiding citizens can be trusted with this freedom. He was denied his rights. This upset Nash, as a series of robberies had taken place in his neighborhood and he wanted to be able to protect himself and his girlfriend.
So he contacted Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (an NRA affiliate), and asked if there was anything that could be done. King said there might be, but warned Nash that if he became a plaintiff in a lawsuit, he would have to be the sort of person who doesn’t quit. He’d have to be the type of everyday American who has fought every battle—in war, in the courts and in the political arena—for our freedom from 1776 to today.
Nash said there was no budging him. He has the weight of what’s right behind him, which would keep him steady. As it has turned out, as this was being written, those in the media who do not support the Second Amendment had mostly opted not to engage him; perhaps because they’d rather not humanize a normal sort of fellow who simply wants to claw his civil rights out of the clutches of government.
When I met Nash at a gun range near Albany, he said, “I guess this is a big deal. It was sure humbling to hear my name mentioned during a hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Indeed, it was. During the hearing for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, when asked about the limits on the government’s ability to deny this constitutional freedom, New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood said Nash “actually lives near Albany … . [He couldn’t] take [a concealed gun] to the shopping mall or downtown,” but, she said, Nash could carry concealed in New York’s “backcountry areas” (whatever they are).
I asked Nash if he thought the forested area around the range we were on, which was a short drive from Albany, was “backcountry” enough to allow him to carry.
He shrugged and said, “It is so subjective on their part that I’d be scared to do that; who knows, they might argue it wasn’t and prosecute me.”
Nash represents the thing that stymies the media, politicians and lawyers who oppose the right to self-defense the most: the everyday, law-abiding American. This is just as it should be.
Here is Nash, in his own words.
A1F: When did you first apply for a concealed-carry license? Why did you decide to begin exercising your Second Amendment right to bear arms?
Nash: I applied for my pistol permit in December of 2014. In my county, you apply for a hunting and target permit and later apply to have your restrictions removed. In order to apply for the initial permit, I had to take a safety class, provide four character references and get fingerprinted for a federal background check. Once the county receives your application, it can take six months to get an answer. This is how it works in my county, but other counties have different criteria and timelines.
The reason why I applied for the permit is there had been an increase in crime in the local area and I wanted to be able to defend myself in an emergency situation. I did not want to become a victim.
A1F: Were you surprised when you were turned down? How did they inform you?
Nash: I was issued my pistol permit with restrictions for hunting and target shooting on March 12, 2015. I waited a year plus, and on Sept. 5, 2016, I wrote a letter to my judge, Richard J. McNally Jr., asking that my restrictions be removed for self-defense purposes. I cited “a recent string of robberies” in my area, including one on my street. I also took an advanced safety class during this year and mentioned that in my letter. This class demonstrates that I can safely handle a pistol.
Judge McNally had me come into his chambers only to tell me that he would not remove my restrictions. He said I did not present a “special need” above and beyond the general public. I was definitely shocked by the denial. I felt that I had done everything that was required of me and actually went above and beyond.
A1F: You have noted that the constitutional right to bear arms is treated flippantly in your state and county (Rensselaer County, New York)—one judge on your county’s licensing board might get out of the way of citizens’ freedom, whereas another might deny almost everyone. Was this in your mind when you paid your fees and submitted your application?
Nash: At the time I initially paid my fees, the only thing on my mind was that I wanted to be able to carry a pistol to be able to defend myself. It was later on in the process, after the denial of removing my restrictions, that I realized there are discrepancies from judge to judge within my county and from county to county within New York.
Having now spoken to many individuals in my county, it seems like everyone that gets my judge also gets denied, whereas other judges mostly approve everyone. Other friends in my county have simply said they wanted an unrestricted permit to protect themselves and their families and they were approved. Friends in other counties were given an unrestricted permit from day one. I was now realizing that my ability to exercise this constitutional right was solely up to my judge’s discretion. There was no reason why my rights should be less valid than others’. Why were others allowed to have this right and not me? It wasn’t fair to be denied, especially knowing the right to bear arms is a constitutional right.
A1F: The jarring reality that government officials in New York state can simply deny you this constitutional right, unless you somehow convince them you have a special need to be “permitted” to use your right to keep and bear arms, must have been a gut punch. Tell us about how you felt and then what you did about it.
Nash: I was initially shocked that I got denied an unrestricted permit. That led me to read up on the law. In doing so, I realized that the judge acted within his discretion. Your judge is assigned to you for the length of their term. My judge was currently on a 14-year term. It became clear to me that the only way to fix this statewide problem was to get the law changed. I knew this would be no easy task and that it would require some high-profile lawyers—lawyers that I knew I could not afford.
A1F: How did you become a plaintiff in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen?
Nash: I emailed Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, to ask for guidance in my fight. He quickly responded with a phone call and wanted to reach out to the NRA and its lawyers to see if they thought I had a case. It turns out they thought I had a great case. We filed the first case in January of 2018. The lawyers at the NRA laid out a roadmap then and that exact roadmap led us right where they said it would, to the Supreme Court of the United States.
A1F: How has the media treated you thus far?
Nash: Amy Hunter, the director of media relations for the NRA, has played a huge part in guiding me through the media inquiries; in fact, when I talk to friends, family or co-workers about my case and explain the pistol-permitting discrepancies, whether they are for gun rights or not, they all agree that my rights were violated and this is more of a constitutional violation than about gun control. I was prepared for news outlets to make me into someone or a movement that I am not, but most media have recognized that my constitutional right was infringed upon. So far, I don’t feel like there has been much negative press directed at me.
A1F: You have said you were asked by Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, “Are you willing to stick your neck out over this?” What was your reaction?
Nash: By the time I spoke to Tom King, I had a good idea of how big a fight this would be and without hesitation I agreed to move forward. I have always been the person who wants to do the right thing and be competitive, from making sure I did the best I could in school to even just learning a new skill. I study, research and become as knowledgeable as I can on whatever project I am working on. I couldn’t not stand up for my rights and others. When I see something wrong, I have to fix it. I had to fix this. This was not just for me; it was about fixing the law for all New Yorkers.
A1F: The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have heard this case and should have a decision by June 2022. What have you learned since the day you decided to publicly stand up for this critical freedom?
Nash: When I heard the Supreme Court Justices talk about my case and mention my name, it was an indescribable feeling. You always hope that you will be heard, and to have my case be heard by the Supreme Court was very powerful. It helped remind me that I was right in feeling wronged by the New York state pistol-permitting process. The way the majority of justices spoke, it seemed like they were recognizing that the law was violating my rights. I feel the weight of other New Yorkers who have gone before me and were denied their rights—or who didn’t bother to apply, knowing they’d be denied—on my shoulders. I want to do something about it for all of them.
I would say the biggest thing I have learned is that if there is something you strongly believe in, you should fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you. An ordinary, average citizen can make a difference by speaking up for themselves and finding the right people to help them fight their battle. I am no different than anyone else. I go to work, pay my taxes and live an ordinary life like everyone else. I am not different, except that I chose to act on what I felt was wrong.
A1F: What are you hoping will come from this case?
Nash: I still want now what I wanted the day I filed the first case four years ago: to strike down New York state’s “proper-cause” requirement as unconstitutional. I would like to see New York’s pistol-permitting regime move from a “may-issue” to a “shall-issue” regime and, of course, I want the government to get out of the way of my freedom.
This appeared in the February 2022 issue of America's 1st Freedom.