NY State Jewish Gun Club takes aim at carry ban in houses of worship

NY State Jewish Gun Club takes aim at carry ban in houses of worship
(AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

There are already at least four legal challenges to New York’s post-Bruen gun laws that have already been filed in court, but the New York State Jewish Gun Club is readying another legal fight in the hopes of overturning one of the many new “sensitive places” designated as gun-free zones established by anti-gun lawmakers just a few months ago.

The coming litigation was highlighted by CBS News in a piece looking at the coming fight over where guns can be banned; a story that I’ll admit was much more evenhanded than what I expect from mainstream media outlets. The network did a pretty good job in outlining the issues with New York’s sweeping restrictions on where guns can be carried, and spoke directly with a number of individuals directly involved in the fight to take them off the books.

“The focus of this sensitive-place statute in New York is so overbroad and vague. It says you can’t possess a weapon in a place of worship or religious observation, and it begs the question: what is a religious observation?” said Ameer Benno, a lawyer hired by the gun club to challenge the law. “There’s the Second Amendment right, but the fear that if you transgress that right you could be prosecuted for a felony will chill people from exercising their religious freedom.”

The suit hasn’t yet been filed, but Benno said he and co-counsel Cory Morris have signed on numerous plaintiffs — individuals and houses of worship — who believe their Second and First Amendment rights are violated by New York’s sensitive-space restrictions.

“This isn’t a mythical thing. This is a very real, sad reality that Jews are targeted and houses of worship are targeted for violence and extremism, and by telegraphing to the world that these places are now gun-free zones, you’re quite literally putting a target on the backs of all Jewish men and women,” Benno said.

The attacks aren’t limited to synagogues, he said, and extend to churches and mosques where worshippers have “equal right to possess a weapon for their self-defense” but are prohibited from doing so under New York’s law.

“It’s simply that we have a right to be protected where we are, and this new law is overreaching,” said Tzvi Waldman, founder of the New York State Jewish Gun Club. “I just want to protect myself and be left alone.”

Under the law proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and rushed through the legislature with the help of her fellow Democrats, the only way that synagogues, churches, mosques, or other worship centers can have an armed presence is if they hire paid security guards. Allowing for licensed concealed carry on their property simply isn’t an option for faith leaders, which I would argue is a flagrant violation of both their Second Amendment and private property rights.

In the Bruen decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote about the limited number of “sensitive places” in the historical record where guns could be banned, including polling stations, courthouses, and legislative assemblies. New York’s exhaustive (and exhausting) list of “sensitive places,” on the other hand, includes many places where guns must be banned, including houses of worship and bars and restaurants that serve alcohol along with the vast majority of public spaces, including public transportation, parks, and even Times Square and the surrounding city blocks.

Benno calls the ban on concealed carry in houses of worship an “unprecedented act of government overreach that not only violates the Second Amendment, but goes right to the heart of the First Amendment,” and he’s not wrong. The “sensitive places” statute isn’t the only unconstitutional gun control law approved by New York legislators this year, but between this pending lawsuit and the re-filed lawsuit brought by GOA, it could very well be the first to fall.