By Tandy Lau
Guns that are .45 calibers are still prohibited on 45th Street. The United States Supreme Court gave New York the green light to provisionally enforce the Concealed Carry Improvement Act—which includes registered firearm bans in “sensitive zones” like Times Square—as the state battles pro-gun advocates in court over the law’s constitutionality.
“Keeping New Yorkers safe is my top priority,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul. “I’m pleased that this Supreme Court order will allow us to continue enforcing the gun laws we put in place to do just that. We believe that these thoughtful, sensible regulations will help to prevent gun violence, and we will keep working with the New York Attorney General’s office on protecting the laws.”
“We have a right to enact commonsense measures to protect our communities, and I am pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow New York’s concealed carry gun law to remain in effect,” said State Attorney General Letitia James. “Too many New Yorkers are plagued by gun violence, and we know that basic gun laws help save lives every day. My office will continue to use every tool at our disposal to protect New Yorkers and defend our responsible gun laws.”
The Concealed Carry Improvement Act came on the heels of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision last summer, which declared the over a century-old New York “proper cause” licensing requirements for concealed carry pistols unconstitutional. Beyond new restrictions and vetting measures for getting a gun, the new law also bans firearms in “sensitive zones.”
In October, Mayor Eric Adams signed a bill designating Times Square as such a zone. He cited concerns over the world-famous tourist hub turning into a cowboy western if concealed carry firearms were permitted. Licensed guns or not, a shoot-out at the “Crossroads of the World” leaves pedestrians in harm’s way for collateral damage. Back in 2021, stray bullets from two separate shootings injured several bystanders in Times Square, including a four-year-old girl.
But according to Prof. Warren Eller, chair of the Department of Public Management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, registered firearm deaths are a nominal issue in New York City, given how much easier obtaining an illegal gun is. The advent of 3D printing makes the process even easier, cheaper and harder to trace.
“Just because laws change doesn’t mean it’s easy to legally own a gun in the state of New York, let alone the city [of] New York,” said Eller. “Just by random draw, the fact of how difficult it is to simply get a gun means that the odds are pretty low, given how easy it is to get one illegally…you can go through the legal route, which means that you would have to go to the city, you would have to pay a ton of money.
“You would have to wait a long time to get a permit for the right to purchase a firearm. You would then have to go to a place where you could purchase a firearm, select a firearm or purchase that firearm, assuming that they had one in stock, given the recent demand.”
He said that almost no data is kept on registered gun deaths in New York City due to the marginal numbers. A CDC spokesperson told the Amsterdam News that recent numbers are not available through the agency’s National Violent Death Reporting System.
Shootings are also minimal in Manhattan’s Midtown South police precinct, which encompasses Times Square, along with Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and parts of Koreatown. The NYPD reported only two shootings there last year. To contrast, seven shootings have already been recorded in Brooklyn’s 73rd police precinct, which contains parts of overwhelmingly Black and brown neighborhoods Brownsville and Ocean Hill, just two weeks into 2023.
Roughly 700,00 people, including residents, workers and tourists, move through Midtown South each day. The NYU Furman Center estimates roughly 128,369 people lived in Brownsville as of 2019. Two precincts in the Bronx—the 42nd and 47th—have also already surpassed the total 2022 shootings in Midtown South this year.
But Eller doesn’t recommend establishing neighborhoods vulnerable to gun violence as “sensitive zones” under the Concealed Carry Improvement Act either. For one thing, concealed carry bans offer law enforcement an additional autonomy toward reasonable suspicion, enabling potential “stop-and-frisk”-type procedures that historically and disproportionately affect Black and brown New Yorkers. Nor do “sensitive zones” address the underlying root causes of gun violence in New York City.
“Gun violence tracks perfectly with a couple other crime indicators, one of which is violent crime,” said Eller. “Gun violence is really not unto itself a single mechanism, but it is an indicator of a larger social pathology…the true problems that we’re seeing in Manhattan is we have lost a tremendous amount of wealth in the city during the pandemic. And we have not found ways to generate new revenues for the city to replicate those types of things. And the more we continue with economic disparity, the more we continue not providing social services, [the more] that we continue to have castes of underserved citizens, the greater [problems] we have.
“Law enforcement is important. Law and order and a regulated society are important. But so are maintaining standards of living for folks, and dignity and respect, until we focus on making sure everyone’s getting [on] the ladder.”
Last month, the Office of the New York State Comptroller found almost 24% of young men in New York City are unemployed, with young people of color facing higher rates of unemployment than their white counterparts.
“The city must take steps to strengthen career opportunities for young jobseekers or the city’s economic recovery will be stifled even further,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “The recovery is much slower for young workers in New York City when compared to the rest of the state and the country, and has had a particularly profound impact on young people of color and young men.”
Solutions for gun violence ultimately start when the city stops looking at crime—like shootings—as a phenomenon, said Eller.
“It’s telling us that something bad is going on somewhere, whether it’s a mental health indicator of folks like the incels, or if it’s telling us that there [is] a class of folks that we have disenfranchised in society who have no other way of getting by,” he said. “There was a time in a day where we were raising generations of folks who didn’t see themselves living beyond the age of 30 and never saw a legitimate career path for themselves, and [we] couldn’t figure out why they might want to steal somebody else’s crap.
“It’s not rocket science and a lot of cases but the solutions are hard. And that’s the toughest part about it — at some point — somebody needs to roll their sleeves up.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The initial story had Eller’s first name as Wayne, not Warren.