If nothing else, the arrest of New York City Council member Inna Vernikov for allegedly carrying a concealed firearm in a “sensitive place” is providing a revealing glimpse at how the city’s restrictive gun laws work in practice. On Thursday, Vernikov was arraigned in a Brooklyn court on a single count of carrying in a prohibited place; a Class E felony offense punishable by up to four years in prison.
Thanks to New York’s bail law, which prohibits cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, Vernikov wasn’t required to post a bond in her case. Instead, she was released on her own recognizance and told to show up for her next court appearance in January.
Vernikov pleaded not guilty to the charge, according to local media, and her attorney told reporters on Thursday that the prosecutors can’t simply rely on photos that appear to show the council member with a pistol sticking out of her pants at a pro-Palestinian rally that took place at Brooklyn Colllege back in October to secure a conviction.
Her attorney, Arthur Aidala, said images appearing to show his client bringing a gun to the protest could have been altered.
“In today’s world of artificial intelligence, you can put anything on social media,” Aidala said after the arraignment, news outlets reported. “Rules of evidence are, it’s a human being who has to make these descriptions, not based on what you see on a computer screen.”
Aidala said prosecutors also must show that the gun police recovered from Vernikov’s home after they arrested her was operable.
“I’m assuming in January they’ll have a ballistics report telling us whether it’s worked and then they’ll have a witness who actually saw her with a gun,” he said.
It’s curious, to say the least, that Aidala is suggesting that the pistol might not have been in working condition when she was allegedly spotted with the gun tucked into the front of her pants. Was Vernikov engaging in a little bit of trolling by carrying a non-working firearm to the protest? Aidala didn’t provide any more details, which is smart from a defense attorney’s perspective. Make the prosecutors do the work. It’s up to them to prove his client’s guilt, not the other way around.
I’m somewhat surprised that Aidala didn’t bring up a Second Amendment defense in his comments, but I guess he feels the best strategy, at least for now, is to force the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Vernikov was actually carrying an operable firearm rather than challenge the portion of New York’s “Concealed Carry Improvement Act” that prohibits carrying a firearm at protests and on the grounds of colleges and universities.
Aidala can always make the case that the New York statute violates Vernikov’s Second Amendment rights if a ballistics report is done that does show that Vernikov’s pistol was operable at the time of her arrest, but after his remarks to reporters outside of the courthouse I’m very interested to see if that will be the case.
This is the first high-profile case involving a concealed carry holder charged with carrying in a “gun-free zone” since New York imposed its new restrictions following the Bruen decision, and based on Aidala’s comments it looks like this will be anything but a cut-and-dried prosecution. I’m fascinated to see how this will turn out, but we’ve got a couple of months before the next developments will take place.