Senate breaks decades-old impasse over gun safety

New York leaders on Thursday vowed to pass legislation that would broadly restrict the carrying of firearms as quickly as possible and criticized the United States Supreme Court for overturning an earlier measure in a ruling that will affect five other states and dozens of other states. millions of Americans.

Governor Kathy Hochul said she would convene a special legislative session in July and outlined proposals that could allow the state to maintain some of the country’s most restrictive gun laws. Democratic leaders in the Legislature promised to work with the governor.

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

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

His comments came minutes after the publication of the Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, which declared a century-old law that gives New York officials sweeping authority to decide who can carry guns unconstitutional. 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 guns in New York City as a whole would be unacceptable to the court.

“Put simply,” he wrote, “there is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is crowded and generally protected by the NYPD.”

The decision did not affect states with “must issue” laws. These measures give local authorities less freedom to decide who can carry weapons, but they can still impose significant restrictions on applicants. The distinction, clarified in an opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, could allow states where restrictions have broad support to rewrite new rules.

In New York, Mrs. Hochul called a meeting with the mayors of New York’s six largest cities to discuss possible legislation. She said leaders are planning changes to the laws governing the permit, potentially requiring additional training. They also plan to identify so-called sensitive locations where weapons would not be allowed. Mrs. Hochul declined to expand potential locations as lawmakers debate, but said he believes subways should be among them.

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

Mrs. Hochul added that she hopes to establish a system in which firearms are banned in private companies unless the owners formally authorize them.

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

For example, he explained, authorities can bar guns within 30 meters of a school or government building, and these buffer zones can make a substantial part of a city off-limits. But he said whether these kinds of restrictions would pass the courts was an open question.

New York law is not yet off the books. The case now goes back to a lower court — the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit — which must in turn refer it to the Federal District Court in New York, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Angeles, an expert in constitutional law and gun policy.

That court will likely give New York a grace period rather than strike down the law outright, Winkler said.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past, when the courts gave lawmakers some time so they could adopt a law,” he said. In that case, he added, the alternative would be “to have everyone with guns on the streets of New York.”

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

“Nothing changes today,” Mayor Eric Adams told a city hall press conference. He called the decision “terrifying” and said it could undermine efforts to increase security. Arms trafficking from other states, much of it in the so-called Iron Pipeline of I-95, may no longer be necessary, he said.

“Iron Pipeline will be Van Wyck,” the mayor said, referring to the expressway that runs through Queens. “The weapons will be purchased here.”

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

New York has a number of regulations unaffected by the court ruling. The SAFE Act, passed in 2013, prohibits assault-style weapons with military characteristics, requires background checks for nearly all sales and transfers of ammunition and firearms, and prohibits persons convicted of certain crimes from possessing weapons. The 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 cheered the court’s decision. Republican gubernatorial candidates Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani applauded the decision.

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

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

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

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

“More than 90% of people prosecuted for illegally carrying 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 scheme, which has fueled the criminalization and incarceration of young New Yorkers of color.”

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

But at a news conference across the street from City Hall, members of the legislature’s black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian legislature said the decision will put their constituents and communities in jeopardy.

“If, in fact, anyone and everyone can get a license to take a gun and ride the subway, in our parks, in our cinemas and at our concerts, we are in big trouble,” he said. Senator Robert Jackson.

New York authorities were already struggling to fight gun crime. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of shootings that resulted in injuries doubled in New York City. And the overall rate of shootings in 20 other areas, including Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, rose sharply during that time, according to city and state data.

While criminologists disagree on what drives the increase in violence, many point to disruptions caused by the pandemic and the easy flow of weapons to New York from states with looser restrictions.

Studies have shown that right-of-hand laws are associated with higher rates of violent crime. A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that these laws were associated with up to 15% “higher aggregate violent crime rates.”

Zellnor Myrie, a Democratic state senator from Brooklyn who is one of the Legislature’s leading voices on gun violence, said the court’s decision came as he attended an elementary school graduation outside the 36th Street subway station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. , where 10 people were shot and dozens were wounded when a gunman opened fire aboard a train in April.

“I just think about the kids I just saw graduate, who have to live in cities, states or countries where the government chooses guns over their lives,” he said.

Dana Rubinstein, Hurubie Meko and Chelsia Rose Marcius contributed reports.

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