Photo-Illustration: by Curbed; PhotosGetty Images
New Yorkers live our lives in public. We travel on subways and buses, sit blanket to blanket for outdoor concerts, mingle with neighbors on the front porch. When we have political problems, we demonstrate everywhere: in Foley Square, on Fifth Avenue or in front of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s apartment building in Brooklyn. That’s how cities work. It shows our the city is operating, even, intermittently, during COVID. But with June New York State Rifles and Pistols Association v. The bridge decision, in which the Supreme Court struck down a century-old New York state law that required proof of cause for the concealed carry of handguns, our sense of safety in crowded places could be more permanently damaged than it was not by the pandemic.
The ruling was an escalation of the Court’s 2008 decision Heller decision which restored precedent by neglecting the first 13 words of a 27-word amendment – specifically the wording of a “well-regulated militia” – and ruled that there is indeed an individual right to own and wear a firearm. At a time when mass shootings are nightmarish, The bridge feels aggressively misguided. But even if you think (as the conservative justices say) that they’re just reading the Constitution carefully, they’ve elevated the Second Amendment above the First, which explicitly establishes the “right of the people to assemble peacefully.” Those rights that have long defined this country — freedom of speech, of religion, of the press — are eclipsed by another right, one that has become an article of faith for many Americans. Our idealistic First Amendment country is becoming a deeply cynical Second Amendment country.
Last September, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union jointly filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of New York’s longstanding approach to handgun limits. “This is a Second Amendment case,” the brief’s summary reads, “but its resolution also involves core First Amendment values.” The brief goes on to state that “self-government depends on the ability of people to participate fully in civic, political and economic life. People need to feel safe to vote, go to school and work, walk the streets, and meet, associate, and speak freely in public. As one of the memoir’s authors, NYCLU supervising attorney Perry Grossman recently told me, “You need a respite in the public sphere for civic life to happen.
The ruling, as written by Justice Clarence Thomas, eliminates that breathing space. It advances a perception of the United States as a dystopian nation where day-to-day survival depends on weaponry. Judge Samuel Alito’s assent to the majority opinion makes specific reference to New York City and its supposedly dark and spooky streets. Seems like he’s watched too many 1970s Clint Eastwood movies, Alito says unless residents ‘can brandish or, if necessary, use a handgun when attacked, they can be murdered , violated or suffer other serious injuries”.
“That’s bullshit. I mean, call it that,” NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman claims. is.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul apparently felt the same way, leading to a substantial bill (41001 in the Assembly and 51001 in the Senate) that creates stricter (but less subjective) eligibility requirements. ) to carry a firearm. As of September 1, it also designates a large number of “sensitive places” where firearms are prohibited, including government buildings, places of worship, libraries, public parks and playgrounds, zoos and all the types of schools imaginable. The metro system and other forms of public transport are covered, as are airport terminals, bars, casinos and licensed places for cannabis consumption. It’s a long list.
As reassuring as it is that the state legislature is on the side of the First Amendment, the idea that we need to demarcate gun-free zones underscores the problem but does not solve it. Of course, public streets and sidewalks that have been marked off for an event count as sensitive places, as do “any gathering of individuals to collectively express their constitutional rights to demonstrate or assemble.” However, the public roads used for the daily activities of our lives are not. Shouldn’t they be? What could be a more peaceful form of gathering than walking down a Fifth Avenue sidewalk?
In Lieberman’s reading of The bridge decision (which she calls a “monumental manipulation of history”), there is “a lot of room to protect sensitive spaces and the activities that make spaces sensitive”. But only one specific location has been labeled “sensitive” in the bill: Times Square. Yes, it’s New York’s most iconic public place and tourist destination – 365,000 people pass through it every day – and it’s crowded most of the time. But it’s also the exact spot that many New Yorkers are proud to avoid. It’s not exactly the center of civic life.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman, whose Manhattan district includes Times Square, said he “personally led the fight to have it included in the bill.” The reasons are the most obvious, is that it is “a very touristic and busy pedestrian square where there are many public demonstrations, demonstrations and assemblies of people”. The real reason Times Square needs its own designation is less obvious: it doesn’t fall into any of the other unarmed categories. It is not a park or a public place in the normal and regulatory sense. It is just a confluence of streets, some of which have been closed to traffic and turned into squares. But so many gathering places in New York City defy categorization. What about the crowded walkways on the East River bridges or the myriad other places where, like in Times Square, the streets have been turned into public plazas?
Hoylman says naming other spots — including the World Trade Center and the entire borough of Manhattan — was debated, but nothing else was picked up. Lawmakers, he says, were doing their best to craft a bill in an effort to “predict what a legal challenge to the law might be.”
There will undoubtedly be many of these challenges. One of the first was filed on July 11 by Buffalo businessman and congressional candidate Carl Paladino, who likened banning guns in public places to banning talking or praying. . (The example cited by Paladino in the interviews was McDonald’s, which does not appear to fall into any of the “sensitive” categories listed in the bill. Never mind that private companies are still allowed to ban guns as they wish. For now, at least.)
Hoylman notes that some Republican lawmakers in Albany have argued that an unarmed designation would somehow make Times Square a magnet for armed criminals. This does not appear to be a concern for the Times Square Alliance, whose chairman Tom Harris calls it “it is appropriate that Times Square, with its high volume of foot traffic, be considered a sensitive location worthy of further scrutiny. “.
Although there have been several high-profile shootings in and around Times Square in recent years, such as the one last October that led to the New York Job’classic headline “MAN SHOT HIMSELF IN LEG WHILE URINATING IN TIMES SQUARE” — there is no suggestion that the problem will be solved by arming more people rather than fewer.
Hoylman, for his part, worries about what declaring a particularly famous part of New York City a gun-free zone will mean for all other parts of the city. This suggests that the places where we regularly lead our lives can be left to fend for themselves. “We’ve had to impose ourselves in law where people can feel safest,” he says, “and that’s really upended our notion of public safety.