New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signs gun laws after string of shootings
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed 10 gun-related bills, including one which will prohibit New Yorkers under the age of 21 from buying semi-automatic rifles.
Patrick Colson-Price, Associated Press
Imagine this scenario:
It’s 4:30 p.m. A busy work day is ending and another evening of epic Manhattan gridlock is swinging into full gear with a symphony of car horns. You have a cold-call sales pitch in 20 minutes at a Midtown office on the East Side. But you’re packing heat in the form of a concealed handgun on your belt. And you’re stuck on the West Side.
Don’t bother trying to hail a taxi or dialing for an Uber. Glaciers move faster than this traffic. As for subways or walking through Times Square, forget those too. Both are now defined as “sensitive places” and are off limits now to concealed weapons.
Welcome to a glimpse of America’s new normal in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month that essentially says any adult has the Constitutional right to carry a concealed handgun without a special permit.
The Court’s ruling seemed to eviscerate a strict gun law that largely barred the carrying of concealed firearms in New York State. The Supreme Court also appeared to open the door to challenges to similar laws in New Jersey and four other Democrat-led states, including California, that largely ban the carrying of concealed handguns. Together, these states represent a quarter of the U.S. population.
But what’s striking about the Supreme Court’s ruling, written by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, is that it’s not an open ticket to carrying guns everywhere. The Court allowed for exceptions. Hence, New York’s newly legislated “sensitive places” dictum, which was quickly signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul. Don’t be surprised if New Jersey and other states follow New York’s lead.
What this sets up, beside another round of court fights that will likely end up in the nation’s highest court, is a strange set of new rules for how we navigate our lives in a nation that has more guns than people.
Can ‘sensitive places’ work?
For example, under New York’s new regulations, you can walk the streets and sidewalks around Yankee Stadium in the Bronx with a concealed handgun — but you can’t go inside to watch a game with that gun. The stadium is a “sensitive place.” The same goes for theaters. What’s more, stores and other business can now post signs at the door, telling pistol-packing customers to stay away.
Which brings us to this question: If you feel the need to carry a concealed gun but can’t bring it to a meeting with a client at a bar — another “sensitive place” — what do you do with the gun when your arrive?
Hand the gun to the bartender? Leave it behind a tree and hope no one finds it?
Or, suppose you don’t tell anyone that you’re carrying a concealed gun? (The gun is, after all, supposed to be hidden under a jacket or in a purse.) But if you’re not supposed to have a concealed handgun when you enter a “sensitive place,” and you suddenly draw it and defend yourself because, say, a mass shooter arrives, can you be charged with a crime?
Gun rights advocates are already complaining — and rightly so. The new patchwork of “sensitive places” makes gerrymandered Congressional districts look downright logical.
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Meanwhile, what about those of us who just want meaningful and smart, commonsense regulations that reduce the number of guns, especially those carried by would-be Rambos who preach the gospel of the National Rifle Association that the “best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”?
That bad-guy-good-guy theory worked real well at the Tops grocery in Buffalo, New York, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and during the July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, didn’t it?
Those of us who want reasonable regulations on guns are the majority — or that’s what the polls say. But the majority is not ruling on this issue — not across the nation.
After the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a century-old New York State law requiring people to demonstrate “proper cause” to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm, New York’s legislature went to work.
The goal in Albany was to find ways to defang the Supreme Court’s ruling. And the result was a set of new rules, notably the designation of gun-free “sensitive places” such as subways, buses, bars, government buildings, houses of worship, schools, libraries, playgrounds, parks, child care facilities, hospitals and homeless shelters. The new law also requires 15 hours of in-person training at a firing range for applicants and an in-person interview with law enforcement authorities.
What will New Jersey do?
New Jersey has not followed New York’s path — not yet anyway. But a variety of gun control advocates in the Garden State are already calling for stricter rules on where ordinary people can carry concealed firearms.
Not to be deterred, Gov. Phil Murphy this week signed seven new measures that limit sales of ammunition, require additional training for gun owners and ban .50-caliber rifles. Yep, New Jersey finally banned the kind of rifle used by U.S. military snipers — this, after then Gov. Chris Christie, in a move to please right-wing Republicans at the advent of his 2016 presidential campaign, vetoed similar legislation.
While praised by Murphy as “smart” and “commonsense” laws that live up to “Jersey values,” the new regulations are viewed more as fine-tuning of the state’s already strict gun laws and not the kind of leap that New York State took in creating a litany of gun-free zones. But Murphy promised “more steps,” adding: “Our work is not done.”
So stay tuned.
Already in the New Jersey legislative pipeline in Trenton are proposals to increase the minimum age for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 years. Another proposal would require gun owners to store their firearms in gun safes or locked boxes.
As with New York, where the head of the state’s Firearms Association, a gun rights advocacy group, compared the new regulations to Nazi “Gestapo” tactics and the kinds of restrictions found in “communist China,” you can expect the same push-back in New Jersey.
Which means America’s war over guns is far from over.
Even with the much touted but remarkably mild new bipartisan federal gun controls signed into law by President Joe Biden two weeks ago, the national gun landscape is a tossed salad of rules that vary from state to state.
Meanwhile gun deaths keep rising, whether they are the work of criminal gangs on the mean streets of our cities or in highbrow towns such as Highland Park, Illinois, that seem more like settings for a Norman Rockwell painting than a mass murder during a July 4 parade.
We now pass laws that create “sensitive places” — and we hope for the best.
We know it isn’t enough as we await the news of our next mass shooting.
Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com as well as the author of three critically acclaimed non-fiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.