Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Gov. Kathy Hochul at lectern explaining the new restrictive gun bill to the media. July 13, 2022

State lawmakers were called back to Albany on June 30 to continue the battle in the war on gun violence. Earlier last month the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s gun law, stating it was in violation of an individuals’ Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The case was brought through many levels of state and federal courts by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association on behalf of two Rensselaer County residents, Brandon Koch and Robert Nash, who want to carry handguns in public for the purpose of self-defense.

The nation’s high court wrote in their decision:

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The state of New York makes it a crime to possess a firearm without a license, whether inside or outside the home. An individual who wants to carry a firearm outside his home may obtain an unrestricted license to “have and carry” a concealed “pistol or revolver” if he can prove that “proper cause exists” for doing so. An applicant satisfies the “proper cause” requirement only if he can “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.

Petitioners Brandon Koch and Robert Nash are adult, law-abiding New York residents who both applied for unrestricted licenses to carry a handgun in public based on their generalized interest in self-defense. The State denied both of their applications for unrestricted licenses, allegedly because Koch and Nash failed to satisfy the “proper cause” requirement. Petitioners then sued respondents – state officials who oversee the processing of licensing applications – for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that respondents violated their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying their unrestricted-license applications for failure to demonstrate a unique need for self-defense.

 

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice John Roberts as well as justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney-Barrett all concurred.

Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan concurred.

The decision concluded, “New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.”

Justice Alito also weighed in with an opinion backing up Thomas’s writing.

Previous case law “correctly recognized that the Second Amendment codifies the right of ordinary law-abiding Americans to protect themselves from lethal violence by possessing and, if necessary, using a gun,” Alito wrote. “In 1791, when the Second Amendment was adopted, there were no police departments, and many families lived alone on isolated farms or on the frontiers. If these people were attacked, they were on their own. It is hard to imagine the furor that would have erupted if the Federal Government and the States had tried to take away the guns that these people needed for protection. Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear that they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves. And today, no less than in 1791, the Second Amendment guarantees their right to do so.”

The case was argued on November 3, 2021, and decided on June 23, 2022.

When state lawmakers arrived in Albany for an extraordinary session of the Legislature, called by Governor Kathy Hochul a week after the decision was rendered, a bill was not ready for debate – costing taxpayers money unnecessarily. The next day, July 1, debate began – more than three hours of debate in the state Senate and more than four hours in the state Assembly.

Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Greenwich Village), a Jewish lawmaker, spoke on July 1 about the need for safer streets in Manhattan.

“It was just a couple of days ago in Manhattan where a young woman was pushing her baby, she herself was only 20, she was a baby too. She was shot cold-blooded on the Upper East Side,” Hoylman said. “We have to address the scourge of gun violence and for the United States Supreme Court to send down this decision to New York at this time when illegal guns have been flooding our streets and gun violence is at an all-time high, is absolutely despicable. I consider today to be a return favor to the United States Supreme Court for what they have attempted to do to New York state’s concealed-carry law. The Empire State strikes back in making certain that our streets are safer and that illegal guns are removed and that individuals who visit parts of Manhattan in my district, including Times Square, can do so with the assurance that they are safe.”

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans were furious a bill was not ready when the special session was scheduled to begin.

“The governor thinks so little of people that yesterday [June 30] she thought we all had 12 or 14 hours just to sit around and do nothing while she was not doing her job,” said Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Great Kills, Staten Island). “The governor dragged us up here and that’s okay, that’s our job when we got here the governor did not have a bill to give the legislature. The people deserve better than that.”

Lanza also focused his remarks on the ruling from the high court.

“What the Supreme Court rightly said was the standard in New York was so arbitrary and so capricious that people’s rights were being denied at the whims of the people who were in charge of deciding whether or not someone has cause, and in New York that meant special need to have the right to defend themselves,” Lanza argued from the Senate floor. “In practice, how does that go down? The Supreme Court said it was arbitrary and capricious. I say at best that is what is happening. At worst, it has been outright disregard for freedom, a distrust of people which you always see from the tyrants, from the people from good government. They don’t trust the people. People aren’t smart enough to be free. They aren’t capable of having and possessing liberty and at worst I think there was a racist element and the facts bear that out.”

Lanza also focused his remarks on safety of gun ownership under the new bill.

“The evil in this legislation is there really is no such thing as a carry permit. The sensitive places, the places you cannot carry, under this legislation, the sensitive places are New York state. It’s a big laugh, a big joke. The sensitive place is New York.

“A few more people might be able to exercise their right and receive a carry permit but none of them will have any meaning because you can’t carry [guns] anywhere in New York. You can carry but if you run into that pizzeria [where guns are not allowed] you have to leave the gun in the car. That sounds safe. The state has said you’re of good moral character, you’re proficient, you’re well-trained, here you are, we trust you to protect your life. We trust you to carry [a gun] but wait a minute, if you’re going to go into the pizzeria, leave your gun in the car,” Lanza concluded.

The governor clarified that point at her news conference.

“We are making ‘no open carry’ the default position for private businesses,” said Hochul. “That means that any business, grocery store, retail, private home, place that wants to allow guns on their premises, will have to demonstrate that and establish that they put a sign out there that says concealed carry guns are welcome here. We are respecting private property owner rights. So, we’re standing up for their rights, the business owner, the rights of their patrons, the rights of their employees and the rights of the public.”

In the Assembly, the debate took a different turn and focused on issues pertaining to background checks, training for gun ownership, hunting, military personnel, wearing of body armor and several other issues too extensive to covered in this article.

The debate began with questions being volleyed by Assembly Republicans to the bill’s lead debater Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx democrat.

“We might as well be at war with ourselves, given the number of people killed with guns in this country,” Dinowitz (D-Riverdale, The Bronx) said. “Nothing in here [the legislation] takes guns away from people. It just simply limits certain places where they can bring it or not bring it.”

One upstate lawmaker who is a retired police chief and fire chief, questioned Dinowitz about individuals being able to defend themselves in places that are off-limits to guns.

“In the 20-some places that are now sensitive areas, how would a person defend themselves there?” asked Assemblyman Joe Angelino (R-Norwich, Chenango County).

“I’m not sure why some people think that people need to walk around town with a gun to defend themselves,” Dinowitz countered.

“Because there are criminals walking around shooting people,” Angelino answered.

“And that’s what we have the police for,” Dinowitz retorted. “It almost suggests that every single person should be carrying a gun and I believe that many people could cause more damage if they are carrying a gun than if they are not carrying a gun. We’re dealing with a very limited scope here. We have law enforcement to protect us. I believe in law enforcement. If everybody had a gun, then it’s like saying we don’t need the police. I don’t believe that.”

But the former police chief countered: “The police do not have a duty to protect any one particular person. They give everyone the opportunity for equal protection. They can’t be everywhere,” Angelino said. “They’re a finite force and in some places, they are minutes away when seconds count.”

The governor backed up Dinowitz when she signed the bill into law.

“The whole argument that the more people who have weapons will stop the bad guys with a gun because a good guy has a gun. You’ve heard this argument. It doesn’t work,” said Hochul. “The data shows that that is a false argument. We have the statistics that show that because the takeaway we get from those data is that you’re four or five times more likely to be killed by guns in those states than you are in the State of New York.”

Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Albany, recently installed an 8-foot fence around the perimeter of their 6-acre property in fear of potential gun violence at the religious institution. It is the only known example of a synagogue taking such action in upstate New York.

Ron Lichtman, 76, a retired NYPD officer and resident of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Mill Basin, told The Jewish Press, “There are not too many licensed people who carry guns. The bad guys are shooting up everybody. There are too many bad guys with guns. I think there are too many guys with guns because they are not going to jail. There are not enough good guys with guns.”

On the topic of where guns will be allowed and where they will be barred, one upstate lawmaker pointed to a piece of irony.

“If the state Rifle and Pistol Association, the plaintiff in the federal action, if they gather to collectively express their constitutional right to protest the new change in Second Amendment legislation, it seems they would fall under the category of a sensitive place and be precluded from carrying any firearms. Would that be accurate?” Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes (R-Caledonia, Livingston County) queried.

“That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?” Dinowitz retorted with a slight grin.

The governor clarified where the sensitive places are.

“We are creating a definitive list of sensitive locations where individuals will not be able to carry firearms,” Hochul said. “Common sense: schools, summer camps, libraries, daycares, parks, and playgrounds places children gather, theaters, museums, entertainment venues, places of worship for religious observation, polling places, educational institutions, and health and medical facilities, federal, state, local government buildings, homeless and domestic violence shelters, places where alcohol is consumed, restaurants, bars, public transportation, subway buses, airports, and at public demonstrations and rallies, and at Times Square.”

Lichtman had another interpretation of the governor’s efforts.

“She’s just pandering to the liberal people because it’s an election year. She went overboard,” Lichtman said. “There’s a saying in the police department, I’d rather be judged by 12 [jurors] then carried by six [pallbearers].

Another downstate lawmaker made the argument that poor folks won’t be able to afford to apply for the license.

“This legislation is flawed based on the grounds of constitutionality,” said Assemblyman Michael Tannousis (R-Great Kills, Staten Island). “However, one aspect that concerns me is the fact that the new requirements will now cost $2,000. That means that the people who have the resources and the income in affluent communities will now be able to apply for this. The individual who does not have that income and that source and may live in a neighborhood that does not have adequate safety now cannot apply for this permit.”

Dinowitz wasn’t the only one defending the new law. Other democrats stepped up to be heard.

“Upending decades of legal precedent to appease a political party is not making anyone safer, it’s doing the opposite,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side, Manhattan), a Jewish lawmaker. “New Yorkers should not have to duck and cover while simply shopping for tonight’s dinner, having a drink with friends or traveling to work. If this activist Supreme Court had its way there is no telling the uptick in gun violence this decision could have brought. New York state will not settle for its residents to be in places of danger.”

One lawmaker from a New York City suburb, who is not seeking reelection and is running for Congress, had his final say when explaining his vote on the bill.

“The governor and the majority in the Assembly are seeking to pass legislation that is purely political, that will do nothing to address anything pertaining to gun violence in our cities or across the state,” said Assemblyman Michael Lawler (R-Pearl River, Rockland County). “It will only trample further on people’s constitutional rights. The bill sponsor acknowledged that if more people are going to be able to get a concealed-carry we’re going to make it more restrictive as to where you can actually go. This law is going to be thrown out in court and it’s just another indication of the failure of one-party rule. The majority in the Assembly [the Democrats] have total disdain and disregard for the people of the state of New York. One thing is clear. Albany is a dysfunctional cesspool of corruption and this town needs an enema come November.”

Another Republican lawmaker from the North Country, who is seeking to gain a seat in the state Senate predicted the new legislation will be thrown out if it reaches the high court once again.

“[The Democrats] know that the U.S. Constitution will be upheld by the United States Supreme Court and this will be thrown out but they are doing it just before a holiday weekend for nothing more than politics,” said Assemblyman Mark Walczyk (R-Watertown, Jefferson County).

Dinowitz disagreed that this new law will be thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The law that was more than 100 years old was challenged and the challenge was successful given the new alignment of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Dinowitz said. “I believe that what we’re doing is constitutional and it will be upheld if it is challenged. Time will tell.”

The measure passed the 63-member Senate 43 to 20 and the 150-member Assembly 91 to 51. Eight members did not cast a vote on the measure.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at swnsonline@gmail.com.