What the U.S. Supreme Court’s Gun Ruling Could Mean for Transit in New York City

UPDATE: The Supreme Court of the United States overturned New York’s concealed-carry handgun law on Thursday in a 6-3 decision. In anticipation of the decision, Gothamist spoke with legal experts about the potential impact on New York City’s subways, buses and commuter trains.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on New York’s tough gun laws this month. Many New Yorkers fear the court’s conservative majority will strike down a state law that requires gun owners to prove they must carry a concealed weapon.

If the court rejects the century-old provision of New York’s gun law, there are fears that more handguns will enter public places, along with more shootings. But there are also questions about how public places like subways and buses, which have already seen several high-profile shootings this year, will be regulated.

Legal experts said the city and state can make a case designating subways, buses and rails as a so-called “sensitive location” — a designation prohibiting all firearms in certain locations, even at owners of concealed carriers. But many – including the Supreme Court justices themselves in pleading – anticipate this as the next legal battleground: how far can governments go to ban concealed carry in public places?

MTA board member Norman Brown said if members of the public were allowed to carry a concealed weapon, there would be an even greater demand for more policing of subways. The city has already assigned more than 1,000 additional officers to the subway this year and has asked other police officers to patrol the subway as part of their normal routine. The MTA and Mayor Eric Adams called for a bigger police presence earlier this month, but transit and criminal justice advocates say there are too many officers as there are.

“It’s going to be a complete disaster and shows how anti-urban the Supreme Court is to the foundation,” said Brown, who serves on the board as labor commissioner for Metro-North.

He is also concerned about ongoing efforts to bring riders back to the subway, which is still experiencing reduced ridership due to the pandemic, and concerns about safety.

“It’s both a practical fear and a marketing fear. How do you market the train if you assume the guy in the big coat has a gun under his arm?” Brown said.

“Best Worst Idea”

Kirk D. Burkhalter is a law professor at New York School of Law and a retired NYPD detective who served for 20 years and said the idea of ​​allowing more civilians to carry concealed weapons in New York is the “best worst idea I have”. I heard for some time.

“When you have people armed with no training, innocent people get hurt,” Burkhalter said. “It’s one of the most dangerous things I can think of.”

Burkhalter thinks the federal government, which regulates travel and doesn’t allow guns on planes, is likely to step in and regulate this space. And while private indoor venues may continue to ban guns, Burkhalter fears for outdoor venues that might not be regulated.

“Road rage, for example, is the first thing that comes to mind,” Burkhalter said. “We regularly have people getting into physical altercations and attacking each other with their fists or a blunt instrument. Arming a civilian population to solve their problems with a gun rather than other means is a huge problem.

The US DOT declined to comment on this story until the Supreme Court issues its opinion on the case.

Workarounds

Burkhalter is pretty confident that even if the Supreme Court strikes down New York’s Concealment Permit Act, there will be enough other regulations to prohibit most people from easily getting a gun.

Warren Eller, chair of the public management department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, made the same point, adding that the city is likely thinking about public spaces where guns are restricted.

“I’d bet what the city is going to do is enact a fairly large amount of restrictions on concealed carry permits to include mass transit, arguing that subway stations and even the subway itself don’t are no different than large stadiums or other places where guns are banned even with permits in different states,” Eller said. “This decision seems pretty great, and it’s pretty revolutionary, but at the same time, urban life in New York is so integrated that it leaves a host of other opportunities to regulate guns.”

Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed several gun control measures following the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. Last week, Hochul said she has been working with the state’s legal and policy team and Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit gun reform group, since learning that the Court supreme would take up this case. She expects a legal response to be ready if the court rules in favor of easing gun restrictions, but she wouldn’t say what her plan is.

“I have to be able to keep my cards handy,” Hochul said last Friday. “But the second that decision is made because we’ve already done the groundwork, we can do an analysis pretty quickly.”

She added: “We should have an idea of ​​how we are going to react. Are there any executive actions to take? Is there a legislative solution and I have already spoken to the leaders about the possibility, in cooperation with them, of bringing the legislature back into special session.

The MTA and the New York Attorney General’s Office declined to comment until the Supreme Court’s decision is announced.

Fears persist

Still, the potential decision scares transit advocates.

“After the recent spate of shootings, riders made it clear that they did not feel safer or more comfortable with people bringing guns onto the transit system more easily,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “The state, city, and MTA should continue to ban guns in transit and continue to crack down on ghost guns and other illegal weapons.”

After the non-fatal mass shooting on an R train in April, Adams suggested installing metal detectors around the subway system. It’s unclear how effective such a program would be, given the vastness of the subway system and multiple entry points. But some MTA board members support the efforts.

“I believe the MTA should review all technologies to stop firearms before they enter the system,” MTA board member Andrew Albert wrote in a statement. “There are new types of metal detectors that are geared towards guns or other weapons, rather than going off if someone has a huge metal bracelet or hip. I think we should look at all of these technologies to keep guns out of the system.

The mayor also said he plans to “fortify” the police on their patrols and his police commissioner is expected to announce a new program soon to monitor subways.

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment or a timeline for the new policing plan.

Herb Pinder contributed to this report.

Melvin Z. Madore