Confronting a rise in violent crime on streets and in subways of New York City, Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have set up a “gun-free zone” in Times Square, declaring the neighborhood off-limits to firearms. Laminated signs affixed to lampposts warn: “violation of this prohibition is a felony.”
Reacting to the Supreme Court’s June decision in the Bruen case, which found that New York City’s rules on the issuance of carry permits for legal gun owners were unconstitutionally strict, Hochul, along with most of the state’s political leadership, expressed outrage at a ruling that “could place millions of New Yorkers in harm’s way.” The governor called the state legislature into emergency session to pass new laws that would fight the decision of a “politicized Supreme Court” because, as she pointed out, she has “the power of the pen.”
Mayor Adams was also dismayed by the Court’s decision. “This decision may have opened an additional river feeding the sea of gun violence,” he fretted, “but we will do everything we can to dam it.” Eric Bottcher, the city council member representing Times Square, expressed astonishment. “This feels very surreal to me that we’re talking about a New York where people are going to be allowed to carry handguns in their pocket,” he said at a public hearing. “I can’t really believe that we’re having this conversation, and it’s because of this Supreme Court, because of what they did. . . . I’m really, really, really worried about what’s going to happen.”
In addition to banning guns in areas of special significance, Hochul and the legislature also passed laws that would make it harder to get a gun permit in the first place. The governor declared that, with the new legislation, she was “taking swift and bold action to protect New Yorkers” from the consequences of the Court’s “reckless decision.” New York now requires in-person interviews, gun-safety training courses, and submission of social media accounts for scrutiny to get a handgun, and guns cannot be brought into libraries, parks, subway stations, bars, or any business that does not affirmatively permit guns on the premises.
At no point in this rush to condemn the Court and impose the nation’s harshest statewide restrictions on simple gun ownership did any major official offer evidence that these new laws would affect violence or crime rates. Virtually all gun crime in Gotham is committed by people wielding illegal guns, operating completely outside the gun-permitting and registration system. It’s already illegal to possess an unregistered gun, and carrying one is supposed to entail a mandatory prison sentence.
The fear that legal gun owners might take their guns to Times Square may or may not be well-founded; about 40,000 legal, permitted handguns are registered in New York City, and it would be less than ideal if their owners all converged in midtown to celebrate the Bruen decision. But it’s more sobering to consider a 1993 NYPD estimate that more than 2 million illegal guns circulate around the city. Some have been seized, but it’s hard to imagine, 30 years later, that the total number has changed radically.
With respect to the concerns of Councilmember Bottcher, New Yorkers already live in a city where people routinely carry guns in their pockets. The problem is that New York has ceased to police its streets proactively, vigorously prosecute illegal gun-possession charges, and raise the cost of carrying illegal guns to the point that people would leave them home. Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg refuses to seek jail time for people charged simply with carrying a gun because “not every person charged with possessing an illegal gun in New York City is a driver of violence.”
This hands-off tendency, shared by district attorneys in other boroughs—not to mention other U.S. cities—has led to a situation in which 80 percent of people arrested on gun charges in New York City get released without bail. One was Edison Cruz of the Bronx, who was arrested three times for possessing illegal “ghost guns.” He was released twice and bailed out by a philanthropic group the third time. He went on to commit murder in May.
Posting “Gun-Free Zone” signs around Times Square is a stunt. No legal gun owner has shot anyone in the area in recent memory. Restricting legal gun possession is easy and cheap because the people who legally own guns abide by the law. Addressing the real problem of violence and safe streets is harder. Hochul and Adams know what to do. They’re just not willing to incur the political costs of doing it.
Photo: Warren Eisenberg/iStock