The New York State Legislature passed a flurry of gun restrictions Friday, banning firearms in many public places, including Times Square, and stiffening permitting requirements, a week after the U.S. Supreme Court made it easier for people to carry handguns in public.
In a special session, the state's Senate and Assembly repealed a concealed-carry restriction that the court deemed unconstitutional but voted to enact a new set of gun laws that they hope will soften the blow of the court’s first major ruling on a Second Amendment case in more than a decade.
The justices, in a 6-3 decision on June 23, struck down a century-old provision in New York that requires gun owners who want to carry a handgun outside their homes to prove that they have a unique need for self-protection.
Forced to eliminate that requirement, state lawmakers compensated by enacting more onerous restrictions in other areas, including designating many public places as gun-free zones and adding more permits requirements.
The bill was sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, who signed it into law Friday evening.
Under the bill, which goes into effect Sept. 1, guns will be banned from modes of public transportation, such as subways and buses, and from schools, shelters, government buildings, poll sites, places of worship, health facilities, establishments that serve alcohol, libraries, day cares, zoos, museums, theaters and stadiums, public playgrounds and parks.
Other sensitive locations where firearms will be prohibited include Times Square, a popular tourist destination in Manhattan.
There will also be a “presumption” statewide that firearms are not welcome inside private businesses unless the property owner explicitly states otherwise with a clearly visible sign.
Under the bill, pistol permit seekers statewide will have to disclose their former and current social media accounts from the past three years.
They will also need to sit for an in-person interview with a licensing officer, have at least 16 hours of in-person firearm training and agree to store firearms safely, including inside vehicles and inside homes with children 18 and under.
The bill will create statewide record databases for ammunition sales and licenses, and require ammunition sellers or firearm dealers to keep a record book of every ammunition transaction. It will also create an appeals board.
At a news conference Friday, Hochul said the new gun laws would help prevent dystopian scenarios, in which confrontations in crowded places, such as bars and subway cars, quickly escalate with concealed firearms.
“Just imagine you’re on a crowded subway and you bang into somebody inadvertently. Tempers flare and the person that you bumped into happens to be carrying a concealed weapon,” she said.
“Imagine you’re in Times Square. You’re on the way to a show with your family, and you’re surrounded by people with concealed weapons,” Hochul said. “Does that make you feel more or less safe? I think we all know the answer to those questions.”
But Republican lawmakers from both legislative bodies, who represent counties upstate and Staten Island, expressed opposition to many of the measures, which they said they only had about 12 hours to review. Twenty state senators voted against the bill.
State Sen. Daniel Stec (R-Queensbury) slammed the process for being rushed, while State Sen. Pamela Helming (R-Canandaigua) said the bill will punish law-abiding citizens and have little impact on people who carry guns illegally.
"Criminals are not going to follow the requirements outlined in this bill," Helming said, adding that they may instead "target and terrorize" places where firearms are banned.
"The only people who will be impacted by the bill before us are people who follow rules," Helming said.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) said the long list of proposed sensitive places means that even if people are granted a permit to carry, they won't be able to bring handguns "just about anywhere in New York."
Lanza criticized the proposed measures as being “more unconstitutional” than the restriction the Supreme Court struck down. “It gives tyrants more options to say no,” he said.
Some or all of the new restrictions will likely face legal challenges by gun-rights groups energized by the Supreme Court victory, said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But because the provisions appear to stand on firm constitutional ground, Skaggs said they would likely fail.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) said legislators were "very careful to painstakingly look throughout the country to ensure that we were comporting with what this opinion said."
To be eligible for a firearms license prior to the Supreme Court ruling, New York residents, 21 years old or older, had to have a "legally recognized reason for wanting to possess or carry a firearm," be of "good moral character" and have no previous convictions on felonies or serious offenses.
Only the requirement to prove a unique reason to carry a firearm was ruled unconstitutional because it gave too much discretion to the state and its licensing officers.
Applications were typically approved for people whose job it is to carry large amounts of cash or those who have a restraining order against someone who has a firearm, gun-safety experts said.
In a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said states may continue to require licenses for carrying handguns for self-defense, so long as they follow the less-restrictive requirements used by 43 other states.
Those requirements may include fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, Kavanaugh said.
In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the justices have "no occasion to comprehensively define" sensitive places. But he said there is "no historical basis" for New York to declare the entirety of Manhattan as one simply because it is crowded and policed.
The ruling comes amid heightened concerns for public safety in New York, where a gunman wounded 10 people inside a subway car in April and another shooter killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo in May.
More than 3,000 guns have been recovered in the city so far this year, while gun arrests are at a 28-year high, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said at a news conference last week. Shooting incidents have doubled there from 2019 to 2021, she added.
"We cannot afford to have weapons of violence proliferating in an unabated way," Adams said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone responded to the court's decision by announcing plans to bolster "red flag" laws, designed to prevent people who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing firearms.
Bellone said Suffolk County leads the state in red flag warnings. The county's police department, he said, has seized about 160 guns since 2019, when New York empowered school administrators, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and family members to pursue court intervention when they believe they know someone who is at high risk of harming themselves or others.
Under the law, a judge could “very quickly” issue an extreme-risk protection order, which could order someone to surrender any firearms, as well as not to try to have or buy any.
But such laws might now fall under new scrutiny. While touted as a lifesaving measure, red flag laws are also a “modern invention” that has no historical precedent in the eyes of the nation’s highest court, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA School of Law professor who specializes in the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment.
“The court says that only those gun regulations that are consistent with historical gun regulation are constitutionally permissible,” Winkler said. “So that means any gun law today that is not very similar to a gun law in the 1800s is unconstitutional.”
Beyond New York, the court's decision throws into question the validity of comparable concealed-carry restrictions in a handful of other states, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The Supreme Court’s ruling technically only directly applies to New York, but its rationale applies to all states. That means while concealed-carry applicants today in states like California and Maryland still must prove proper cause to carry a handgun in public, those days are limited.
"One in four Americans are going to feel the impact of this case," Skaggs said.