“Violent criminals should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” [Aidan Johnston of Gun Owners of America] said. “But possessing a firearm, carrying a firearm in public, is not a crime. And New York has been violating the right of New Yorkers to carry firearms in public for decades.”
Racial equity is a key reason that the defenders supported two upstate residents’ successful challenge to the century-old gun law, which they said was too often applied in a discriminatory fashion. The law had mandated that those who wished to carry guns publicly in New York show a particularly pressing need. Justice Thomas wrote in the decision that the law offered local officials too much discretion and generally trampled on the second amendment.
In a brief filed with the court before it ruled, city defender groups, including Black Attorneys of Legal Aid, Bronx Defenders and the Brooklyn Defender Service, said they supported overturning the law. They argued that “New York enacted its firearm licensing requirements to criminalize gun ownership by racial and ethnic minorities. That remains the effect of its enforcement by police and prosecutors today.”
But some prosecutors and elected officials, even when sympathetic to arguments about equity in enforcement, say that the court’s decision left the state with the rights to enforce reasonable gun regulations.
“More guns on our streets leads to more violence,” said the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, in a statement. “New York’s strong gun regulations and strict licensing regime have been indispensable to keeping us safe, and it is imperative we uphold those laws.”
A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, called the court’s ruling a “disaster” but said that the office did not believe it would affect people charged with illegal weapon possession who never applied for a license or were denied one.
“We will continue to take every step to protect the people of Brooklyn from illegal guns,” he said.
— Jonah E. Bromwich in Unlikely Fans of Supreme Court Ruling on Guns: Public Defenders