As of yesterday, "gun-free zone" signs now adorn roughly 36 blocks of Midtown Manhattan, from 40th St. to 53rd St., between 6th and 9th Avenues, in what has rather expansively been deemed Times Square.
Though many New Yorkers have perhaps fantasized about shooting the vendors who hawk Lion King tickets, or taking aim at tourists in cargo shorts who seem too enthusiastic about the M&M store, Times Square was not up until this point a place rife with crime stemming from lawful gun owners. As such, this move should probably not be viewed as New York politicians using a data-based approach to solve an actual problem, but rather as a reaction to the Supreme Court's recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which in June overturned a New York law requiring that those seeking concealed carry handgun licenses demonstrate to authorities that they have "proper cause" to do so.
The decision in Bruen, while largely affirming Second Amendment rights, does allow for public carry to be limited in places deemed "sensitive," reminds South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman over at The Volokh Conspiracy (which is hosted by Reason). As even Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), "the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited….nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." But it's unclear, at present, how narrow a "sensitive place" designation would have to be to hold up in court. What is clear is that New York politicians have hurried to signal, via signs installed yesterday, that vast swaths of Manhattan remain hostile to gun owners, even those attempting to follow every law currently on the books.
New York state passed a law in the immediate wake of the Bruen decision that designated certain spaces—subways, parks, playgrounds, public libraries, government buildings, churches, temples, and the like—where people would not be allowed to carry guns. Since much of that law goes into effect this week, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and city council have rushed to publicize the areas in which gun owners are barred from carrying. But there are still many carveouts, notes The New York Times:
The police will allow residents licensed to carry guns to do so, if they are headed from their homes to an area outside the boundaries, or vice versa. They will also allow those who are permitted to carry handguns on business premises—such as security guards—to do so. And people with licenses will be allowed to have guns while passing through Times Square in vehicles, provided they do not stop and that the weapons are unloaded and carried in locked containers.
Still, declaring 36 blocks of Manhattan off-limits for those who wish to carry presents all kinds of hurdles for lawful gun owners. It also arguably goes against what the justices writing for the majority in Bruen already said on the matter: "Put simply," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, "there is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a 'sensitive place' simply because it is crowded and protected generally by the New York City Police Department." Though 36 blocks is a far cry from the whole island of Manhattan, it'll be interesting to see if such a broad designation holds up in court, especially as "Times Square" has traditionally been defined much more narrowly, as roughly a five-block cluster between 42nd and 47th St.
"New York has an incentive to define the concept as broadly as possible," Blackman tells Reason. "Entire parts of Manhattan island will be no-carry zones. And I think reasonable people, in good faith, will make mistakes when carrying. One block will be okay, one block will not be okay."
Thus, Blackman says, these rules will be "vulnerable to challenges," though he's "not optimistic that the lower courts will halt these rules." Though such laws may eventually land before the Supreme Court, it would likely take years for this to happen; in the meantime, gun-carrying New Yorkers will be forced to acquiesce.
Legality aside, "gun-free zone" signs look an awful lot like pointless signaling on the part of New York state legislators and their city council lackeys who have hurried to implement these policies. It's worth noting that "gun-free zones" are rarely truly free of guns; they just strip private law-abiding citizens of their rights, instead extending gun rights solely to cops and other agents of the state, as well as the private security guards that rich people hire to protect themselves. (How many Hollywood actors, for example, advocate for strict gun control in the wake of mass shootings yet would balk at the demand that they fire their own private security?)
It is true that New York City, like basically all other large American cities, has a gun violence problem, despite its highly restrictive policies that infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners; the homicide rate rose by roughly 47 percent in 2020, rising an additional 4 percent in 2021, reports Bloomberg. Though the homicide rate has been a little better so far in 2022, other categories of crime like robberies and burglaries are up. An April subway shooting in Brooklyn's Sunset Park left 29 people injured, 10 by gunfire. And, high-profile shootings aside, each summer weekend brings Monday morning news reports of shooting deaths, typically in far-flung, poorer parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. It would be great if the authorities would crack down on prosecuting those crimes, and improving clearance rates, versus the "crime" of an otherwise-lawful gun owner who has accidentally carried her holstered firearm without incident through the wrong block of Midtown.