Albany, NY — A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned a more than 100-year-old law in New York state, opening the door to allow more people to carry handguns.
But the state moved quickly to adopt a new law that will do just the opposite: It will greatly restrict where people can have a handgun.
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The new law will ban firearms on all private property unless the owner makes a point to allow them by putting up signs. It’s a flip of the switch from the current law, which allows legal concealed carry on most private property unless an owner posts signs forbidding guns.
The law also includes a list of 20 types of locations where guns are totally banned: churches, bars, restaurants with alcohol, public parks, government buildings, colleges and public gatherings, among other places.
Critics say the law will, in practice, ban legal gun-owners from carrying weapons nearly anywhere besides their own home and public sidewalks. In nearly every other public place, guns are banned unless a property owner allows them.
That means that diners, gyms, malls and big-box stores no longer need to ban firearms. A business’s only decision will be whether to open up to guns. It could lead to a culture of gun-friendly businesses: a coffee shop, hardware store or gas station that caters to a gun-toting crowd.
New York is the first state in the country to pass a law that bans guns on private property by default.
The new law was passed quickly by the state legislature and signed by the governor in response to the 6-3 Supreme Court decision that struck down the state’s century-old gun licensing law. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the conservative majority, ruled that the state could not require an individual to provide a specific need for a gun to obtain a legal permit.
That so-called “proper cause” statue was unconstitutional because a person’s Second Amendment right to a gun was always grounded in the need for self-defense, the court ruled.
Thomas offered a vague blueprint for future gun laws by ruling that certain “sensitive” places – such as schools or courthouses – could be off-limits for guns. But, he warned, banning guns on the entire island of Manhattan would be unconstitutional.
New York’s sweeping new gun law lies somewhere in-between. State lawmakers defend the new restrictions as legal because they don’t single anyone out and provide objective standards for where guns can be taken.
Robert Spitzer, a gun expert and author, said it will be up to the courts to decide whether the state’s gun laws go too far. Typically, it can take a couple of years for the Supreme Court to hear a new case.
But the conservative majority could decide to review the law on an “expedited review” as early as this fall, said Spitzer, a political science professor emeritus at SUNY Cortland.
Unlike New York’s new law, all other states generally allow guns on private property unless a property owner objects, he said.
Whether New York’s default ban is constitutional is something that remains to be seen, Spitzer said.
The legal challenges needed for such a decision are already in the works. In one, a gun rights group bemoaned that the law makes it virtually impossible to take a gun anywhere in daily life.
“With ‘sensitive locations’ covering most public locations and locations that have some tie to or involvement with state government, and ‘restricted location’ covering all private property by default, it is hard to imagine how a carry license holder could so much as leave home without running afoul of the (law),” the federal lawsuit Antonyuk vs. Bruen reads.
Assuming the law goes into effect without a court injunction, it will also remain to be seen how such law will be enforced.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said that he will uphold his oath to follow the new law, but said that he and local police needed to meet to determine how these arrests might be handled.
Under the new law, taking a legally licensed gun into any sensitive area – such as a park or church – or any restricted area – defined as any private property without signs or other communication allowing guns – is a felony punishable by up to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.
But Fitzpatrick noted that police and prosecutors had discretion in how to handle these cases.
If someone takes a legal gun into a grocery store, for example, there would not be an arrest unless someone knew of the gun and reported it to authorities. The store would then have to get police involved (confirm that the store supported the default ban), and then police would need to arrest the person.
Even then, the district attorney’s office has wide latitude to resolve cases in the interest of justice. A legal gun owner cannot have any felony convictions, by law, making them typically a newcomer to the criminal justice system.
The chances of an otherwise law-abiding citizen being convicted of a felony for taking a legal gun onto private property without permission is very low, Fitzpatrick indicated.
That said, the DA warned that he would have to order some sanction in most cases: perhaps a non-criminal plea that involves giving up a gun license for a period of time, he suggested.
Before the new law, private property owners could ban guns. However, there was no crime for disobeying such a ban. Instead, the owner could order the gun-carrier off the property, then have the person arrested for trespassing – at most, a misdemeanor — if he or she refused to leave.
Spitzer noted the new law makes carrying a gun on private property an automatic felony.
“It certainly ups the ante,” he said.
Here’s a list of “sensitive places” in which guns will be banned under all circumstances beginning Sept. 1:
(a) any place owned or under the control of federal, state or local government, for the purpose of government administration, including courts;
(b) any location providing health, behavioral health, or chemical dependance care or services;
(c) any place of worship or religious observation
(d) libraries, public playgrounds, public parks, and zoos;
(e) the location of any program licensed, regulated, certified, funded, or approved by the office of children and family services that provides services to children, youth, or young adults, any legally exempt childcare provider; a childcare program for which a permit to operate such program has been issued by the department of health and mental hygiene pursuant to the health code of the city of New York;
(f) nursery schools, preschools, and summer camps;
(g) the location of any program licensed, regulated, certified, operated, or funded by the office for people with developmental disabilities;
(h) the location of any program licensed, regulated, certified, operated, or funded by office of addiction services and supports;
(i) the location of any program licensed, regulated, certified, operated, or funded by the office of mental health;
(j) the location of any program licensed, regulated, certified, operated, or funded by the office of temporary and disability assistance;
(k) homeless shelters, runaway homeless youth shelters, family shelters, shelters for adults, domestic violence shelters, and emergency shelters, and residential programs for victims of domestic violence;
(l) residential settings licensed, certified, regulated, funded, or operated by the department of health;
(m) in or upon any building or grounds, owned or leased, of any educational institutions, colleges and universities, licensed private career schools, school districts, public schools, private schools licensed under article one hundred one of the education law, charter schools, non-public schools, board of cooperative educational services, special act schools, preschool special education programs, private residential or non-residential schools for the education of students with disabilities, and any state-operated or state-supported schools;
(n) any place, conveyance, or vehicle used for public transportation or public transit, subway cars, train cars, buses, ferries, railroad, omnibus, marine or aviation transportation; or any facility used for or in connection with service in the transportation of passengers, airports, train stations, subway and rail stations, and bus terminals;
(o) any establishment issued a license for on-premise consumption pursuant to article four, four-A, five, or six of the alcoholic beverage control law where alcohol is consumed and any establishment licensed under article four of the cannabis law for on-premise consumption;
(p) any place used for the performance, art entertainment, gaming, or sporting events such as theaters, stadiums, racetracks, museums, amusement parks, performance venues, concerts, exhibits, conference centers, banquet halls, and gaming facilities and video lottery terminal facilities as licensed by the gaming commission;
(q) any location being used as a polling place;
(r) any public sidewalk or other public area restricted from general public access for a limited time or special event that has been issued a permit for such time or event by a governmental entity, or subject to specific, heightened law enforcement protection, or has otherwise had such access restricted by a governmental entity, provided such location is identified as such by clear and conspicuous signage;
(s) any gathering of individuals to collectively express their constitutional rights to protest or assemble;
(t) the area commonly known as Times Square, as such area is determined and identified by the city of New York; provided such area shall be clearly and conspicuously identified with signage
Here’s the new felony law that bans guns on private property without permission to carry:
“A person is guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in a restricted location when such person possesses a firearm, rifle, or shotgun and enters into or remains on or in private property where such person knows or reasonably should know that the owner or lessee of such property has not permitted such possession by clear and conspicuous signage indicating that the carrying of firearms, rifles, or shotguns on their property is permitted or has otherwise given express consent.”
Staff writer Douglass Dowty can be reached at [email protected] or (315) 470-6070.