Jewish Gun Club challenging firearms ban in places of worship

Legislative Gazette file photo

The New York State Jewish Gun Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, on September 29 against Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James and other officials to overturn the state’s new concealed carry laws.

The organization — a gun club based in Rockland County that unifies Jewish gun owners, providing training and advocacy — also filed an application for an emergency injunction to stop the state from enforcing the aspect of the concealed carry laws that designates places of worship or religious observation as “sensitive places,” where possessing a licensed firearm is prohibited and punishable with severe criminal penalties.

The plaintiffs argue that the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, signed on July 1, 2022, specifically targets people of faith by threatening them with arrest and felony prosecution if they carry their firearm while engaging in religious observance. Furthermore, the new gun laws makes their members “vulnerable to hate and violence.”

In the lawsuit, the group’s attorney Cory Morris notes that the CCIA does not target criminals, but instead, criminalizes those legally carrying a firearm in churches, synagogues, and other places of worship, which have been labeled “sensitive places.” The lawsuit also states the new controversial law is vague on what constitutes a “religious observance,” making it difficult to understand what is prohibited by the new law.

“This is a prime example of how when a governor does not follow the rules and cites an emergency in order to pass laws quickly, it results in blatantly unconstitutional and discriminatory laws being passed,” said Tzvi Waldman, founder of the New York State Jewish Gun Club. “The legislative process was created to ensure that laws are sensible. Avoiding it for the sake of grandstanding creates vague laws that are hard to understand and impossible to abide by.”

The lawsuit names NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell; Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco, III; Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez; and Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Walsh, II as defendants, along with Hochul and James.

The plaintiffs are Steven Goldstein, president of Congregation Bnei Matisyahu in Brooklyn, and Meir Ornstein, a resident of Rockland County.

“ [The CCIA]  eviscerates New Yorkers’ ability to exercise their most basic constitutional rights without fear of harm or arrest, it fosters criminality and forces religious institutions to advertise to criminals that New York demands our churches and synagogues remain vulnerable to hate and violence,” Morris said. “This legislation not only ensures that the surge in religion-based hate crimes will continue, but turns worshippers into sitting ducks.”

Photo by Darren McGee, courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Kathy Hochul signs gun legislation into law, raising the age to purchase semi-automatic weapons to 21.

The state’s new concealed carry laws took effect on September 1 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse century-old restrictions in the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen case. 

Concealed firearms are no longer allowed in areas considered “sensitive locations” including but not limited to, Times Square in midtown Manhattan, bars, libraries, schools, parks, churches, synagogues and other places of worship, government buildings and hospitals. Persons found with guns in these locations will be charged with a felony.

“I refuse to surrender my right as governor to protect New Yorkers from gun violence or any other form of harm. In New York state, we will continue leading the way forward and implementing common sense gun safety legislation,” Hochul said on the day the new laws took effect.

On June 23, the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to limit the accessibility to a concealed carry permit as an act of self defense. The ruling determined restricted licensing was a violation of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. 

The need for proof of “proper cause” to obtain a firearm, defined by New York state law as a demonstration of “a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community,” was considered an infringement of equal protection according to the Supreme Court. The court justices’ voted with three in favor of proof of “proper cause” and six considering it a violation. 

In response to the decision, the Legislature convened a special session in June and passed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. The stricter new gun laws include strengthened background checks, safety practices, live-fire training and a renewal of permits for concealed carry arms every three years. New Yorkers seeking to purchase handguns and semiautomatic rifles must also list all of their social media accounts so authorities can determine if the person poses a danger to themselves or others.  

Age limitations will also prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from acquiring a permit for a semiautomatic rifle starting Sept. 4; a requirement that was a direct response to the Buffalo mass shooting that killed 10 people while grocery shopping at a TOPS supermarket last spring.

According to the findings of The Violence Project 50 percent of mass shooters obtained at least one if not multiple guns legally through, “a licensed dealer, unregulated private sale or other legal means.”

The Buffalo shooter was amongst those who were granted permission to multiple firearms after he passed a background check, though a psychiatric evaluation the year before was made after threatening his high school. Payton Gendron was 18 years old when he carried out the hate crime in Buffalo in May.

The Violence Project has also found that two-thirds of U.S. mass shooters had a history of mental health concerns from 1996 to 2020. The new, more stringent background checks are meant to prevent any slip-ups in flagging applicants who are unsuitable to be granted a concealed carry permit. The check will include: four mandatory character references, social media accounts from the current and three previous years, the names of the permit holder’s partner and other adults living in the same residence and an interview with their licensing officer.  

Beginning September 1, applicants as well as permit holders who need to renew their permits will have to attend a 16 hour class and two hour live firearm saftey training that teach conflict de-escalation, suicide prevention and use of deadly force. According to The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV) firearms are used in 50 percent of all suicide deaths and of every five gun deaths three are suicides.

If recertifying a permit with the New York State Police, training is not required. Expanded safe storage requirements are also expected if any minor is living in a home that possesses a firearm.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision was the shot heard round the world that took aim at the safety of all New Yorkers. New York will defend itself against this decision,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said.