Eric Adams made some controversial remarks before being elected New York City Mayor last week. He stated that he would have a handgun in his possession to protect himself as well as any worship houses he may visit. While those remarks were controversial, the real scandal is that ordinary New Yorkers cannot legally carry guns for self-defense—a privilege that Adams takes for granted as a former police officer.
The double standard became apparent last week when the Supreme Court examined a constitutional challenge against New York’s carry permits law. New York is different from the rest of the states which permit residents to bring guns to public places if they satisfy a narrow list of objective criteria. New York grants local officials wide latitude to decide whether applicants have “proper cause” for exercising the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms in public.
An ex-U.S. Paul Clement, former U.S. He stated that in order for New York to grant a constitutional right outside of the home, applicants must show an unusual need that is unique to them.
Clement claimed that such a situation is “described as a privilege” instead of “a Constitutional right.” The majority of the justices agreed.
Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out that “the idea that you require a license in order to exercise your right” was “unusual within the context of Bill of Rights.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that “too many discretions” when deciding who has the right to exercise a Constitutional right can “cause all kinds of problems.”
Justice Samuel Alito explored what this kind of discretion could mean for ordinary law-abiding citizens, who believe they have a right to keep a gun for their own protection. He pointed out that many people who work in Manhattan late at night, such as office cleaners and dishwashers or nurses and doormen, might get home around midnight and “may have to walk some distance through high crime areas” before they return.
Alito indicated that such an individual would have no luck applying for a carry license unless Alito made specific threats like, “I will mug you next week.” The mere statement that “there were a lot of muggers in this region, I am afraid to death” would be not enough.
This brief is from Black Attorneys of Legal Aid. It goes far beyond hypotheticals. The brief describes Benjamin Prosser’s case, in which he was the “repeat victim of violent stranger assailments and robberies along the streets.”
Prosser purchased a gun to defend himself when he was working two-hour days. He pleaded guilty, even though he was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of over three years prison for the weapon offense.
Sam Little (another defendant) “survived face slashing” and was among the many victims of gun violence. After being charged with “carrying an assault weapon to protect himself and his son”, he spent eight months in prison.
After police stopped him and had him frisked, Little was taken into custody. Clement stated that New York’s “virtual ban” on firearms in New York means police will stop and frisk everyone. Anyone caught with a firearm is considered presumptively guilty.
New York’s Police Department drastically reduced the “stop, query, and frisk,” program following years of complaints from young Latino men about being harassed for no reason. Adams supports the use of this tactic in judicious ways, provided that police adhere to constitutional restrictions. Adams will not be concerned about whether he is arrested for having a firearm. It is difficult to do this when the state considers people criminals in exercising their Second Amendment rights.
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