Arrests in NY synagogue threats shows absurdity of making worship centers "gun-free zones"

(AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

Police have arrested two men in connection with threats to New York City-area synagogues after one of the pair used social media to declare that he was debating “shoot[ing] up a synagogue” on Friday afternoon. Authorities say they were able to identify 21-year old Christopher Brown through his social media postings, and when Brown and 22-year old Matthew Mahrer were spotted in NYC’s Penn Station late Friday evening, the two men were taken into custody and charged with several counts, including weapons charges.

It doesn’t appear as if either of the men are licensed to carry a concealed firearm, but that didn’t stop the pair from obtaining a gun or their plans to stroll into a “gun-free zone” with murderous intent.

The social media statements got the attention of the multi-jurisdiction Joint Terrorism Task Force, which gave a heads up to MTA police. Transit officers spotted and arrested the pair at Penn Station late Friday, authorities said.

The duo was nabbed following “a developing threat to the Jewish community,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said in a statement Saturday.

The two had traveled to Pennsylvania late last week to purchase a gun, prosecutors said in the charging documents.

Brown said in a statement he gave to prosecutors after his arrest that he intended to buy the gun but backed out at the last minute, according to the criminal complaints.

Given that Brown has been charged with criminal possession of a firearm he apparently got ahold of a gun somewhere, even if it wasn’t on his recent trip to Pennsylvania. New York City Mayor Eric Adams says that based on the evidence collected so far, it looks like Brown wasn’t engaged merely in online trolling.

“This was not an idle threat,” Adams said. “This was a real threat.”

The NYPD, the New York State Police and departments on Long Island have increased security at synagogues and other Jewish institutions as a result of the threats and Adams said the extra protection for the city’s 1.6 million Jews would continue through Hanukkah.

“We’re always concerned about copycats,” Adams said. “No one should ever feel threatened walking into their synagogue or place of worship.”

For now, the state’s ban on lawful carry in houses of worship is on hold thanks to a federal judge, but  just last week the state filed another brief in the case urging the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Judge John A. Sinatra, Jr.’s preliminary injunction that’s currently blocking New York’s carry ban in houses of worship from being enforced. New York Attorney General Letitia James and other anti-2A officials in the state maintain that even religious leaders shouldn’t be able to determine whether or not to allow concealed carry on the premises of their sanctuary, and that worshippers are actually safer sitting in a “gun-free zone” than they would be if their fellow parishioners were armed in case of an attack.
While it’s great news that police were able to take these suspects into custody before they could carry out their alleged plot, there’s no guarantee that law enforcement will be able to thwart every potential threat out there. The Second Circuit is only going to place law-abiding citizens at risk if they overturn the injunction that’s preventing this particular “gun-free zone” from being enforced by police, but if that happens I suspect there’ll be widespread civil disobedience on the part of religious New Yorkers and their faith leaders, who will be more inclined to suffer the consequences of allowing concealed carry on their own property rather than suffer the consequences of being defenseless targets of a mass murderer.