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New York, Northeast leaders react to Supreme Court gun ruling

Attorney General Tish James
Attorney General Tish James
Karen DeWitt
Attorney General Tish James

The US Supreme Court has struck down New York’s restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon in public spaces. Governor Kathy Hochul, saying it is a “deeply disturbing day,” vows to hold a special session in July to create new laws that she says are needed to protect New Yorkers.

The case, brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, took issue with New York’s laws, on the books since the early 1900s, that made it a crime to possess a firearm without a license, and that required anyone who wanted to carry a concealed firearm outside the home to obtain an additional permit. They could only receive one if they could prove that “proper cause exists” for them to carry the weapon.

The 6-to-3 opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, finds that the law violates the US constitution, and prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.

Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking moments after the ruling, called it deeply disturbing, and says it puts the safety of “millions of New Yorkers” at risk.

“This decision isn’t just reckless, it’s reprehensible,” Hochul said. “It’s not what New Yorkers want. And we should have the right of determination of what we want to do in terms of our gun laws in our state. If the federal government will not have sweeping laws to protect us, then our states and our governors have a moral responsibility to do what we can and have laws that protect our citizens.”

A recent poll found that three-quarters of New Yorkers wanted the Supreme Court to uphold the law, including the majority of gun owners.

Hochul condemned that she says is the “insanity of gun culture” that has now reached even the Supreme Court. She says the timing is especially painful, when people in Buffalo are grieving over a mass shooting in May that killed 10 people at a supermarket in an African-American neighborhood.

Hochul says her staff attorneys are working with leaders of the legislature to craft a remedy to the decision, and she says she will be calling the legislature back into session in the coming weeks to address the issue.

“We are not powerless in this situation,” Hochul said. “We are not going to cede our rights that easily despite the best efforts of the politicized Supreme Court of the United States of America.”

Hochul says the details are still being worked out. But she says options include placing many public spaces, like schools and subways, off limits for carrying a concealed weapon. And making it the default position of all private businesses to ban the carrying of guns. Businesses would be permitted to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on their property if they wished to. Hochul says the state could create a new permitting system for carrying a concealed weapon.

“We are also going to create a higher threshold for those who want to receive a concealed carry permit,” Hochul said. “We are going to require that they have specific firearm training.”

The court decision came as Hochul held a bill signing ceremony to sign Alyssa’s Law. It requires school districts to consider installing panic alarms so that school officials and students can alert police if there’s a life threatening incident, including a mass shooting, at their school. It is named for Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old who was killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018.

And it comes just a few weeks after Hochul and the legislature approved a number of gun safety laws, including banning anyone under 21 from buying a semi-automatic rifle, and strengthening the state’s red flag laws.

The state’s Conservative Party praised the Court’s decision, saying in a statement, that it’s a “step in the right direction for millions of Americans who’ve been arbitrarily denied their Constitutional right to self-protection for decades” and that the ruling will “give law-abiding New Yorkers the option of protecting themselves with a firearm in a state with significant crime issues.”

The chair of the state’s Republican Party, Nick Langworthy, who running for a western New York Congressional seat, also weighed in.

“Bravo,” Langworthy said. “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is exactly as it should be – a final authority that protects the constitutional rights of citizens against a dictatorial government.”

Speaking with WAMC just before the ruling, Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado said the high court is out of step with the state.

"You know, the notion that the Supreme Court would actually even be considering this on the heels of you know what we've experienced in Texas and in Buffalo of late, it's shocking. It really is. Tt shocks the conscience. The the capacity of the Supreme Court to operate in this way, totally divorced from reality, is deeply unsettling," he said. "The notion that we think it's OK here in New York to have folks just walk around with concealed weapons. It is not the approach that the vast majority of folks here in the state would subscribe to. And so I do think we have a responsibility as leaders in the state to figure out how to best reflect the genuine will of the people, irrespective of what the high court thinks is appropriate."

The decision came as Hochul held a bill signing ceremony to sign a bill, known as Alyssa’s Law, that require school districts to install panic alarms so that school officials, and students can immediately alert police if there’s a life threatening incident, including a mass shooting, at their school. It is named for Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old who was killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018.

And it comes just a few weeks after Hochul and the legislature approved a number of gun safety laws, including banning anyone under 21 from buying a semi-automatic rifle, and strengthening the state’s Red Flag laws.

Law enforcement are now required to ask a judge for an order to seize the guns of anyone they think might be a threat to themselves or others.

Hochul and lawmakers also made illegal the purchase of body armor, except for law enforcement and people in professions that could be in danger. Other new laws require gun manufacturers to allow for the micro stamping of bullets, to better trace weapons used in commission of crimes.

Democratic state Attorney General Tish James said, "“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to strike down New York’s proper cause requirement to carry a concealed weapon is incredibly disappointing. For more than a century, this law has protected New Yorkers from harm by ensuring that there are reasonable and appropriate regulations for guns in public spaces. The Supreme Court made its decision, but the fight to protect American families from gun violence will march on. In the days to come, my office will be taking action to address the potential harm that this ruling may cause, and we will continue to defend the constitutionality of our state’s laws, as we’ve always done. We will work with the Governor and Legislature to amend our licensing statute that will continue to protect New Yorkers. I want to reassure all New Yorkers that our robust gun protection laws remain intact and we will be working with our partners in government to further strengthen them.

“Make no mistake: This decision will not deter us from standing up to the gun lobby and their repeated efforts to endanger New Yorkers. I vow to use the full force of my office to protect New Yorkers and American families.”

The No. 3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st district, cheered the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling upholds the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms and correctly declares New York’s shameful attempt to shred Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers unconstitutional,” she said in a statement.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, "As communities grapple with the horrific massacres in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, and the over 270 other places that have experienced a mass shooting this year alone, the Supreme Court today decided that guns are more important than lives in this country. Today’s decision reinforces the fact that states must step up to protect our citizens' best interests and lead the way on necessary reform. In New York, we have led the way in passing smart, common sense gun safety legislation to address these tragedies and keep New Yorkers safer. In these devastating times, when the nation is reeling from mass shootings that have shaken Americans to their core, we must stand united to address the laws that keep allowing guns to fall into the wrong hands. New York will rise up to this latest challenge to pass additional gun safety legislation."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, said: "Today’s Supreme Court ruling, which guts state concealed carry permitting laws, is not just irresponsible, it is downright dangerous. Our nation is in the middle of a gun violence epidemic and instead of working to protect our communities, this court has made it even easier for potentially dangerous people to carry concealed handguns in public spaces."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican in Tuesday's four-way primary, said "the United States Supreme Court ruled in defense of the Constitutional rights of law-abiding New Yorkers who have been under attack for far too long. I was proud to sign on to the amicus brief in support of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association’s case and in defense of these law abiding New Yorkers. While Kathy Hochul, the former A-rated NRA Member of Congress, becomes more a walking identity crisis each passing day, she better not make her next move on this yet another assault on law-abiding New Yorkers. If Hochul does, it will make it even more likely that I get elected to her position in November, because New Yorkers need and deserve a Governor who unapologetically defends freedoms, liberty and the Constitution.” 

New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the ruling a "devastating blow to Americans across the country who are tired of living in constant fear of gun violence."

Heastie's statement continues:

"Like every constitutional right, the right to keep and bear arms is not absolute. This Supreme Court appears to believe otherwise.

Today’s ruling will have broad and dangerous consequences for states, including New York, that have chosen to prioritize the right of people to feel safe – not just in schools and government buildings, but at their place of worship or the grocery store – over unfettered access to firearms.

For more than 100 years, New York State has required individuals to establish proper cause to carry a gun in public spaces because we know that more guns do not make our streets safer.

In the aftermath of the racist attack in Buffalo and the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the Assembly Majority passed sweeping legislation to strengthen our existing gun laws and help keep New Yorkers safe in their schools, places of worship and in their communities.

Here in New York, we will continue to fight to end the scourge of gun violence. We will continue our work with the Senate and the governor to ensure New York has the strongest gun laws possible, but we cannot do it alone.

This nation must open its eyes and begin a serious conversation about its dangerous fascination with guns and assault weapons. Our lives depend on it."

Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said the Supreme Court's "deeply destructive" decision will "unleash even more gun violence on American communities."

The Democrat's statement continues:

"Instead of upholding common-sense safeguards to reduce gun violence, it will only put more guns in public spaces and open the floodgates to invalidate sensible gun safety laws in more states. Worse yet, it is a significant step backwards at a moment when horrendous shootings happen across our country every day, taking too many beautiful lives and terrorizing generations of Americans.”

“This opinion in no way impugns the Constitutionality of the common-sense Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that the Senate should approve this week. As gun violence soars, Congress must heed the will of the majority of Americans who support gun safety measures and break the legislative logjam to stop this senseless violence. This activist Supreme Court is once again legislating from the bench, but Congress must continue to legislate for a safer America.”

Massachusetts Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Maura Healey says, “In a country flooded with firearms, today’s reckless and anti-democratic decision poses a grave danger to Americans as they go about their daily lives in public spaces like supermarkets, hospitals, and playgrounds. Gun violence is a public health epidemic, and I remain committed to doing everything I can to keep our residents and our communities safe. Massachusetts has one of the lowest gun death rates in the country because we know that strong gun laws save lives. I stand by our commonsense gun laws and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce them.”

“The Baker-Polito Administration is proud of the Commonwealth’s nation-leading gun laws and history of enacting bipartisan gun reform legislation," said Terry MacCormack, press secretary for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. "The Court’s ruling on New York’s licensing law has no immediate effect on the Commonwealth’s gun laws, which all remain in place.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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