Senate breaks decades-long impasse on gun safety

New York leaders pledged Thursday to pass legislation broadly restricting the carrying of handguns as soon as possible and criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for overturning an earlier measure in a ruling that will affect five other states and tens of millions of Americans.

Governor Kathy Hochul said she would convene a special legislative session as early as July and introduced proposals that could allow the state to maintain some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country. Democratic leaders in the Legislative Assembly have promised to work with the governor.

Ms Hochul was visibly angry at a press conference in Manhattan where she was about to sign a school safety measure bearing the name of a teenager killed in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. She called the Supreme Court’s decision “shocking, absolutely shocking” and said it would make New Yorkers less safe.

“We are already facing a major gun violence crisis,” Ms. Hochul said. “We don’t need to add more fuel to this fire.”

His comments came minutes after the release of the Supreme Court’s decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, which declared unconstitutional a century-old law that gives New York officials the power to decide who can bear arms. California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have similar laws, will also be affected by the decision.

Judge Thomas made it clear that any law restricting the carrying of weapons in New York as a whole would be unacceptable to the court.

“Simply put,” he wrote, “there is no historical basis for New York actually declaring Manhattan Island a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is overcrowded and generally protected by the New York City Police Department.”

The decision did not affect states with “must enact” laws. These measures give local authorities less leeway in deciding who can carry arms, but can still impose significant restrictions on applicants. The distinction, clarified in a concurring opinion by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, may allow states where the restrictions have broad support to redefine new rules.

In New York, Ms. Hochul called a meeting with the mayors of New York’s six largest cities to discuss possible legislation. She said executives were working out changes to licensing laws, potentially requiring additional training. They also plan to identify so-called sensitive places where firearms would not be allowed. Ms Hochul declined to expand on possible locations during the lawmakers’ debate, but said she thought subways should be one of them.

The state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is already drafting rules to ban guns on subways, trains and buses, Paige Graves, its general counsel, said in a statement.

Ms Hochul added that she hoped to establish a system in which handguns would be prohibited in private businesses unless the owners formally authorized them.

Joseph Blocher, a Second Amendment expert at Duke University School of Law in North Carolina, said some of those proposals could meet the specifications the Supreme Court set out in its ruling, but warned that tough questions will arise. inevitably.

For example, he explained, authorities could ban firearms within 100 feet of a school or government building, and such buffer zones could make a substantial part of a city off-limits. But he said whether these kinds of restrictions would be accepted by the courts was an open question.

New York law is not yet out of the ordinary. The case now returns to a lower court – the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – which in turn should send it back to the federal district court in New York, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the ‘University of California, Los Angeles, which majors in constitutional law and gun policy.

This court is likely to grant New York a grace period, instead of striking down the law immediately, Winkler said.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past when the courts gave lawmakers time to pass a law,” he said. In this case, he added that the alternative would be to “get everyone carrying guns on the streets of New York.”

New York officials rushed to explain that the decision would not take effect immediately.

“Nothing changes today,” Mayor Eric Adams said during a press conference at City Hall. He called the decision “appalling” and said it could undermine efforts to increase security. Gun trafficking from other states, much of it on the so-called I-95 Iron Pipeline, may no longer be necessary, he said.

“The iron pipeline is going to be the Van Wyck,” the mayor said, referring to the highway that runs through Queens. “Weapons will be bought here.”

City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell warned that as long as the current law remains in effect, “if you carry a gun illegally in New York, you will be arrested.”

New York has an array of regulations unaffected by the court ruling. The SAFE Act, passed in 2013, bans assault weapons with military specifications, requires background checks for nearly all sales and transfers of ammunition and firearms, and prohibits those convicted of certain offenses from possessing weapons. fire arms. A so-called red flag law, enacted in 2019, allows authorities to seek orders to remove firearms from people they believe will engage in harmful conduct.

Some New Yorkers celebrated the court’s decision. Republican gubernatorial candidates Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani both applauded the decision.

Mr. Zeldin, a congressman and presumptive frontrunner for the nomination, called the decision “a defense of the constitutional rights of law-abiding New Yorkers who have been under attack for far too long.”

And Andrew Chernoff, the owner of Coliseum Gun Traders in Uniondale, Long Island, said it was “more than just a pro-gun move”.

“It has a bigger message — and the bigger message is that you can’t twist and twist the Constitution to your liking,” said Mr Chernoff, who has been in business since 1979.

Several public defender organizations in New York also supported the decision, saying the law had already been used to discriminate against minority customers.

“More than 90% of those prosecuted for possession of unlicensed weapons in New York City are black and brown,” a coalition of public defender groups said in a statement. “These are the people impacted by New York’s discriminatory gun licensing system, which has fueled the criminalization and incarceration of young New Yorkers of color.”

Their statement called on the legislature to craft gun regulations that would address violence without perpetuating discrimination.

But at a press conference in front of City Hall, members of the legislature Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus said the decision would put their constituents and communities at risk.

“If, in fact, anyone and everyone can get a license to get a gun and get on the subway, and in our parks, and in our movie theaters and at our concerts, we’re going to be in big trouble. “Senator Robert Jackson said.

New York officials had previously struggled to curb gun crime. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of shootings resulting in injuries doubled in New York. And the overall rate of shootings in 20 other areas, including Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, rose sharply during that time, according to the city and State The data.

While criminologists disagree on what is propelling the rise in violence, many point to the disruption caused by the pandemic and the easy flow of guns into New York from states with looser restrictions. .

Studies have shown that right to wear laws are associated with higher rates of violent crime. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2017 found that such laws were associated with “up to 15% higher overall violent crime rates.”

Zellnor Myrie, a Democratic senator from Brooklyn state who is a leading voice in the Legislative Assembly on gun violence, said the court’s decision came as he attended the graduation of elementary school across from the 36th Street subway station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where 10 people were shot dead and dozens injured when a gunman opened fire on a train in April.

“I just think of the kids I just saw graduating, who have to live in a city or state or country where the government chooses guns over their lives,” he said.

Dana Rubinstein, Hurubia Meko and Chelsia Rose Marcius contributed report.

Norman D. Briggs