New York prosecutor promises discretion in enforcing new "gun-free zones"

New York prosecutor promises discretion in enforcing new "gun-free zones"
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

While New York’s new carry restrictions are now in effect, it looks like enforcement of the laws is going to vary wildly across the state. Gov. Kathy Hochul, for example, has proclaimed that anyone not issued a permit by September 1st is going to have to apply under the new laws, while at least one county clerk (and I suspect there are many more) say they’ll continue to process all permits received before the 1st under the old rules (minus the “good cause” requirement struck down by the Supreme Court a couple of months ago).

The same confusion reigns when it comes to the state’s nearly endless number of new “gun-free zones” mandated by recently enacted gun control measures. Under the statute signed by Hochul it’s a felony offense to carry in a “sensitive place”, and even accidentally setting foot inside a prohibited place while carrying could result in a four-year prison sentence.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has already promised that the new laws will be strictly enforced, but the prosecutor and police chief in Syracuse say they have no plans on putting concealed carry holders behind bars, at least if their only “crime” is carrying where it’s not allowed.

Violators will have their weapons confiscated while prosecutors investigate any other criminal activity, District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said. Their cases will be referred to the judge who granted them concealed-carry licenses in the first place, possibly leading to the revocation of their carry privileges.

… The DA noted there’s bound to be widespread confusion over which places are off-limits. Technically, walking on the sidewalk in front of a school with a gun is considered a felony. So is walking through downtown Syracuse’s Clinton Square or Columbus Circle, both public parks where guns are always banned.

In addition, a Syracuse-based federal judge on Wednesday wrote an opinion suggesting that the state’s new law — including the long list of prohibited locations — was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. That ruling, however, was not binding and so the law is in effect as written.

Still, Fitzpatrick suggested, that ruling had an impact on how law enforcement will handle the new restrictions.

Law enforcement won’t be proactively enforcing the new law by trying to catch legal gun-owners in prohibited locations, Syracuse Police Chief Joseph Cecile said.

“It will be complaint-driven,” the chief said.

The idea here seems to be that if the concealed carry holder in question has a history of wandering into “gun-free zones” while carrying, or there are other criminal offenses that took place at the same time, charges might be warranted. An inadvertent incident or innocent mistake, on the other hand, wouldn’t be punished by prison time, though it could still lead to someone losing their ability to lawfully carry altogether. It’s unclear from the news story just how quickly someone will have their firearm returned to them once that investigation into other criminal activity has concluded, however, and that’s a big concern. I’m glad that Fitzpatrick says he won’t be charging accidental violations of the law, but if there are no charges then there should be no gun confiscation either.

The U.S. District Court judge in Syracuse who ended up allowing the new laws to take effect because he determined that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue acknowledged in his ruling that, if the plaintiffs did have standing, he would have ruled in their favor on many of the challenges they brought forward… including the “sensitive places” language.

Given that the judge maintains that the Supreme Court has “effectively barred” any location beyond schools, government buildings, legislative assemblies, and courthouses from being labeled a “sensitive place” off-limits to legal carry; it would have been nice if Fitzpatrick and Cecile had announced that those would be only locations where they would enforce the “sensitive places” statute, but we may see other District Attorneys around the state come to that conclusion on their own. New York’s latest gun control laws have not only created chaos and confusion, but I suspect some civic (and civil) disobedience as well.