One of the great stupidities of New York’s current gun-law debate is that existing laws merely required a couple of tweaks for them to prove effective — nowhere more so than in the need for a license-to-carry rule based on objective criteria rather than bias and favoritism.
New York could have a sensible and effective gun-regulation regime — one that honors Second Amendment rights while recognizing that New York is not Wyoming. And this could happen tomorrow — if only local leaders had something in their heads besides gubernatorial ambitions.
New York’s old gun-control laws, rooted in the infamous Sullivan Act of 1911, had one excellent feature: If you got caught carrying a gun illegally, you went to jail. Enforcement was rigorous — no matter if you were a wannabe gangster in The Bronx or Super Bowl star Plaxico Burress, who served 20 months for his armed shenanigans.
Nobody wants to hear it in the era of “decarceration” and “depolicing,” but one of the major problems facing crime-ridden Democrat-run cities is that many firearms offenses — short of murder — now go largely unpunished: In Philadelphia, 61% of gun cases are dismissed without charges or trial, up from less than 30% as recently as 2016.
Of the 4,456 gun arrests NYPD made in 2021, there was at last count one (not a typo!) conviction at trial and far more dismissals (983) than plea deals (698). Statistically speaking, the most likely thing to happen after an arrest for illegally carrying a gun in New York is . . . nothing.
Criminals have it easy, but New York makes it hard for law-abiding citizens to get a license to carry.
The problem with New York City’s license-to-carry law was never that it was too strict — it was that it was arbitrary and favored the connected. Celebrities such as Steven Seagal and Joan Rivers were issued licenses, but ordinary New Yorkers long found it nearly impossible to get one. This wasn’t a matter of responsible gun ownership — asked in 2003 about the concealed-carry permit he had secured during his mayoral candidacy four decades earlier, William F. Buckley Jr. replied: “I have my pistol permit in my wallet, and no one knows where the gun is.”
New York lurches from one subjective standard to another. Before last year’s Bruen case — which declared New York State’s licensing practices unconstitutional — it was “proper cause,” and now it is “good moral character,” another vague standard that is likely to be thrown out by the courts. What New York needs is one objective standard that applies to everybody.
Lawful carry doesn’t seem to have much impact on crime one way or another. Half of US states require no license to carry at all, and in late January the Florida legislature kick-started efforts to become the latest. Some of those “constitutional carry” states are home to high-crime spots such as Mobile, Ala., and some, such as Vermont, have very little violent crime at all. Either way, concealed carry rules appear to have little impact on violent crime — New Hampshire, with its free-wheeling carry laws, has almost the same crime rate as neighboring Massachusetts, where restrictions are far tighter. New York probably would not see much change in crime even with more libertarian licensing rules — criminals do not apply for permits.
Whatever the end result, New York needs an objective licensing system combined with strict enforcement and real jail time for carrying a gun illegally. Instead of focusing on criminals, the state is imposing time-and-place restrictions on permit holders. In theory, these are perfectly sensible and defensible under the Second Amendment. There is a reasonable case for prohibiting guns in Times Square or City Hall Park.
The problem is that, in practice, New York wants to use these measures as a backdoor to general prohibition: New York’s new post-Bruen law bans firearms from basically all public places (including public transit) unless an establishment has proactively declared itself gun-friendly. That will inconvenience license holders, but criminals are unlikely to comply. Many New Yorkers remember that Times Square was thick with hookers and drugs in the 1980s even though those were illegal. Criminals are likewise unlikely to follow the rules for gun-permit holders. Giving rule-followers more rules to follow will not reduce crime.
Enforcement is the key. If the powers that be want to prohibit the means of self-defense on the New York subways, then they should think about trying to make those subways secure— which they manifestly are not today.
The license-holders are not the problem. The criminals are.