New York leaders on Thursday vowed to pass legislation broadly restricting the carrying of handguns as soon as possible, and slammed the United States Supreme Court for overturning an earlier measure in a decision that five other states and tens of millions of Americans.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will call a special legislative session as early as July and outlined proposals that could allow the state to keep some of the country’s most restrictive gun laws. Democratic leaders in the legislature vowed to work with the governor.
Ms. Hochul was visibly angry at a news conference in Manhattan, where she was preparing to sign off on a school security order named after 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 dealing with a major gun violence crisis,” Ms. Hochul said. “We don’t need to add more fuel to this fire.”
Her comments came minutes after the Supreme Court’s decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, was released, which ruled unconstitutional a centuries-old law that gives New York officials sweeping powers to decide who can carry guns. 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 designate the island of Manhattan as a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is overcrowded and generally protected by the New York City Police Department.”
The ruling did not affect states with statute-making laws. These measures give local officials less discretion in deciding who can carry guns, but can still place significant restrictions on applicants. The distinction, clarified in a concurring opinion by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, may allow states where restrictions enjoy widespread support to rewrite 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 leaders are drafting changes to laws governing permitting, which may require additional training. They also plan to identify so-called sensitive locations where guns would not be allowed. Ms Hochul declined to expand on possible sites while lawmakers debate, but said she thought subways should be one of them.
The state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is already drafting rules to keep guns off subways, trains and buses, Paige Graves, its general counsel, said in a statement.
Ms Hochul added that she hopes to establish a system where handguns would be banned in private businesses unless the owners formally allow them.
Joseph Blocher, a Second Amendment expert at Duke University School of Law in North Carolina, said some of these proposals could meet the specifications the Supreme Court set out in its ruling, but cautioned that difficult issues inevitably arise would.
For example, he explained, officers could park guns within 100 feet of a school or government building, and such buffer zones could put a significant portion of a city on hold. But he said whether those kinds of restrictions would exist in the courts is an open question.
New York law isn’t off the books yet. The case now goes back to a lower court — the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit — which is likely to refer it to the federal district court in New York, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California. Los Angeles, specializing in constitutional law and gun policy.
That court will likely grant New York a grace period rather than strike down the law immediately, Mr. Winkler said.
“We’ve seen this in the past when the courts have given lawmakers some time to pass a law,” he said. In that case, he added, the alternative would be “to let everyone carry guns on the streets of New York.”
New York officials rushed to say the decision would not go into effect immediately.
“Nothing changes today,” Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference at City Hall. He called the verdict “appalling” and said it could undermine efforts to increase security. Arms trafficking from other states, much of it through I-95’s Iron Pipeline, may no longer be necessary, he said.
“The Iron Pipeline will be the Van Wyck,” the mayor said, referring to the freeway that runs through Queens. “The guns are bought here.”
City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell warned that as long as current law remains in effect, “if you carry a gun illegally in New York City, you will be arrested.”
New York has a number of regulations that are unaffected by the court’s decision. The SAFE Act, passed in 2013, bans assault weapons with military traits, requires background checks for almost all sales and transfers of ammunition and firearms, and bans those convicted of certain offenses from owning guns. A so-called Red Flag law enacted in 2019 allows officials to obtain orders to take firearms away from people they believe are engaging in harmful acts.
Some New Yorkers celebrated the court’s decision. Republican gubernatorial nominees Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani both welcomed the ruling.
Mr. Zeldin, a congressman and alleged favorite 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 gun decision.”
“It has a bigger message — and the bigger message is that you can’t twist and turn the Constitution at will,” said Mr. Chernoff, who has been in business since 1979.
Several public defense organizations in New York City also supported the ruling, saying the law had previously been used to discriminate against minority clients.
“Over 90 percent of those prosecuted for illicit gun possession in New York City are black and brown,” a coalition of public defense groups said in a statement. “These are the people affected by New York’s discriminatory gun licensing system, which has fueled the criminalization and incarceration of young New Yorkers of color.”
Her statement called on the Legislature to draft gun regulations that combat violence without pursuing discrimination.
But at a news conference opposite City Hall, members of the Legislative Branch of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian legislatures said the decision will put their constituents and communities at risk.
“If anybody can actually get a license to get a gun and ride the subway, our parks, our movie theaters, our concerts, we’re going to be in big trouble,” he told Senator Robert Jackson .
New York officials have already struggled to fight gun crime. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of shootings involving injuries in New York City doubled. And the overall rate of shootings in 20 other areas, including Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, rose sharply during that period, according to city and state data.
While criminologists disagree on what’s driving the rise in violence, many point to disruptions caused by the pandemic and the easy flow of guns into New York from states with looser restrictions.
Studies have shown that right-to-carry laws are associated with higher rates of violent crime. A 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that such laws were associated with up to 15 percent “higher overall rates of violent crime.”
Zellnor Myrie, a Democratic senator from Brooklyn who is one of the Legislature’s leading voices on gun violence, said the court’s decision came while he was attending an elementary school graduation across from the 36th Street subway station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. where 10 people were shot and dozens injured when a gunman opened fire on a train in April.
“I just think of the kids I’ve just seen grads who have to live in a city, state or country where the government puts guns above their lives,” he said.
Dana Rubinstein, Hurubie Meko and Chelsea Rose Marcius contributed coverage.