Rachel Holliday Smith, Reuven Blau, Katie Honan, The City
With a major gun control decision looming from the Supreme Court, Mayor Eric Adams says City Hall is already strategizing about how the city will contend with an expected win for gun rights supporters.
“After what we saw the Supreme Court did on abortions, we should be very afraid. In a densely populated community like New York, this ruling could have a major impact on us,” Adams said on Thursday.
“We are now looking with our legal experts to see what we can do — how we would curtail the behavior, [in] our transit system, around our schools,” he added.
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen in June.
The pending ruling comes as New York, and other big cities throughout the country, battle a spike in gun violence since the start of the pandemic, and Adams, a former police captain, has made combating gun violence a focal point in his new administration.
With former President Donald Trump’s three appointments to the Court — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — legal experts expect a conservative majority to issue a ruling that will make it much harder to restrict people’s ability to carry a gun in New York, and the rest of the country.
The case rests on whether it is constitutional for New York to deny someone a permit to carry a firearm. Currently, the state’s rigorous application process for a license to carry prevents most people from doing so, unless they show a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”
In hearings last fall, the Supreme Court justices’ questions indicated they are leaning toward a win for the two men at the center of the case, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, who say their constitutional rights were violated when New York denied them a license to carry.
The justices also focused attention on where, specifically, it may be constitutional to ban weapons. They peppered the attorneys on both sides of the case about the possibility of restricting gun carrying in a “sensitive place” like a courthouse, the city’s subway system, or Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
When asked by THE CITY about how he envisions those possible zones, Adams said the legal questions are tricky.
“It opens the door — even if you carve out an area — that there are those who are going to sue based on the areas you carved out,” he said. “This is going to be a legal battle for some time.”
He added that City Hall’s “lawyers are looking at it.”
“We are not sleeping on this ruling,” he said. “We’re very concerned.”
Jerold Levine, an attorney specializing in gun licensure cases and a Second Amendment rights advocate, said he could see the justices leaving the door open to some restrictions on where you can carry, for example at a crowded bar where people are drinking. But having too wide an area off-limits to guns — like on the entire island of Manhattan — would be ripe for future lawsuits.
What may be more likely, he said, is that after the ruling, New York will pass a law allowing private businesses to “restrict the carrying of weapons on their property,” something other states have done.
“In New York, that could really be a minefield for people carrying guns because, in New York, you have many people who hate guns,” he said. “They’ll put up signs everywhere: ‘No guns in our deli,’ ‘no guns in our restaurant,’ ‘no guns in our coffee shop.’”
Still, he is optimistic about the outcome and says it will be a sea change for gun rights in the United States.
“This is the holy grail of gun cases,” he said. “This is the thing that fundamentally changes the gun laws we’ve had in the country for 100 years.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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