Tucked inside a cement warehouse across from an elementary school in Ridgewood, the Seneca Sporting Range provides a place for New York City handgun-owners to unload.
John DeLoca, a licensed gun dealer from Queens who says he has more than 1,000 firearms and nearly 100,000 rounds of ammunition, owns the range. His clientele includes sharp-shooting gun enthusiasts, some New York Police Department officers and armed security guards renewing their certifications, he says.
A small, plexiglass sign above a roll-up door serves as the shooting gallery’s only identifying marker and the inconspicuous site seems to reflect the nature of legal handgun ownership in New York City. Relatively few civilians possess firearms and the vast majority who do lack a license that allows them to leave their home with their gun.
In 2011, only about 4,000 people had permits to carry concealed handguns in New York City, according to public records reviewed by The New York Times. Most of the people who legally pack heat are retired cops, active security guards and business owners who handle significant amounts of cash, along with a few wealthy celebrities.
Yet, a piece of legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and under consideration by the Senate could drastically increase the number of people walking along 42nd Street with a handgun at their hip or hidden in their purse.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act mandates that all states that issue concealed carry permits or licenses must honor the ability of individuals from other states to carry a concealed weapon if they qualify in their home state.
Though they have different licensing requirements, every state, including New York, allows citizens to carry concealed firearms. Twelve states do not require gun owners to take special training or obtain a license or permit before carrying a concealed weapon.
Passage of the bill by the House has brought the gun industry to the brink of fulfilling a decades-long mission, but DeLoca, who supports nationwide reciprocity, doubts it will take affect in New York City.
“The five boroughs are a world of their own,” he says “But what’s the difference if you bought your gun in Sioux City, Iowa; Dallas, Tex.; California or Florida? A license is a license.”
New York City and state, along with other localities, will undoubtedly challenge that assertion if the Senate passes the bill — which remains unlikely, most analysts say — and the president signs it into law.
While gun control advocates contend that the bill violates the Tenth Amendment, which gives states powers not expressly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, constitutional law experts say it remains unclear whether that argument would stand up in court.
“The reciprocity bill would be a disaster for New York City,” says New York University School of Law Professor James Jacobs. “If it passes, it will surely be challenged in court as an unconstitutional over-reach of federal authority [but it’s] hard to predict the outcome.”
Uncertain case law
Jacobs, an expert on federal gun laws, says the NYPD might try to regulate or monitor gun-toting visitors. The expense of those monitoring efforts could bolster a case against the federal law for “imposing cost” on the city and state, he says.
“I suppose NYPD would try to require an out-of-state concealed carrier to sign in [or] register with the NYPD so we would have a record of who is legally carrying,” he says. “That would entail a cost [and] makes the case against the federal law a bit stronger. But the feds would argue that they did not ‘impose’ that cost.”
Existing case law related to nationwide gun legislation has challenged the federal government’s ability to force states to create regulatory structures, but not the government’s ability to override state gun restrictions.
Both Jacobs and Fordham University Law Professor Nicholas Johnson, a federal gun law expert, pointed to the Supreme Court case Printz v. United States to highlight a potential Tenth Amendment argument against concealed-carry reciprocity.
In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government violated the Tenth Amendment by “commandeering” state and local law enforcement agencies by requiring states to temporarily conduct background checks on gun buyers.
Printz, however, applied to a federal mandate that compelled states and municipalities to “do something” — spend money on creating a background check system and on enforcing background checks — Johnson says.
“[The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act] is different from other Federalism cases in the sense that reciprocity does not demand that states develop any regulatory apparatus or assign a sheriff to do background checks,” Johnson says. “All it does is create a system of immunities for out-of-state citizens.”
Any court challenge could set a precedent for the federal government’s ability to overrule state gun laws, he says.
“While there is a long history of states resisting federal commands and Supreme Court jurisprudence that supports state resistance to federal commands, it really only extends to cases where a state legislative apparatus is being commandeered,” he says.
Johnson says gun-control opponents would likely argue that state or municipal laws banning out-of-state citizens from carrying concealed weapons would violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution — the same argument that overturned segregation laws during the Civil Rights Era.
The Commerce Clause enables Congress to regulate interstate commerce, which the gun lobby argues should protect the ability to transport and carry guns across states. New York, on the other hand, would argue that gun laws should remain under traditional state authority.
Advocating against more guns
Though the judicial process for opposing the potential law remains unclear, gun control advocates say they are certain that an infusion of firearms would put New Yorkers in danger.
“People from out of town would come into a bustling place like Times Square and walk around with a gun concealed,” says New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Executive Director Rebecca Fischer. “It would be difficult to enforce and dangerous for police.”
In an appearance on ABC7 on December 11, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill criticized the bill for potentially introducing more guns into the city during a period of historically low violent crime.
He said the bill would allow visitors — often with little or no firearm training — to bring guns into unfamiliar settings like New York City’s subway cars. States like Florida have lenient Stand Your Ground laws that allow gun owners to shoot and kill people when they feel endangered.
O’Neill also said he worried that guns would be stolen, resold and used in crimes.
“I’ve been speaking out against this for months,” O’Neill said. “I said it’s a risk to public safety but it’s more than that— it’s insanity.”
“We do not need more people with guns in New York City,” he continued. “It’s a threat to everyone in this city and it’s a threat to the men and women in the NYPD.”
O’Neill said New Yorkers could also establish residency in states with lax gun laws, like neighboring Vermont and Pennsylvania, and carry the weapons in New York City.
Contending with 47.8 Million Tourists
According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, New York State’s gun laws are stricter than those in many other states because they require all purchasers to undergo a background check and all handgun owners to obtain a license. Municipalities can also regulate guns and local police can determine whether or not to issue a handgun license.
The annual Gun Law State Scorecard gives New York an A- for its background check requirement on all sales, including at gun shows. California just became the first state ever to receive an A on it.
In contrast, Vermont — which shares a nearly 200-mile long border with New York — scored an F because the state does not require background checks on private sales, does not allow local governments to create their own gun regulations and does not require handgun owners to get a concealed carry permit.
“In New York City, it is nearly impossible to get a pistol permit without some kind of hardcore need,” Tom King of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association told Gotham Gazette in 2015. “Getting a concealed carry permit is almost impossible in the city unless you are a politician, a celebrity or very, very wealthy.”
The NYPD charges a non-refundable fee of $340 for a handgun license plus $87 for fingerprinting. DeLoca, along with various gun enthusiasts’ websites, say the process for obtaining a handgun license can take up to a year and the city often denies applications due to inability to demonstrate need.
“They make you jump through hoops,” DeLoca said.
The States Tourists Come From
and the Gun Laws That Exist There
* * * *
People licensed to carry a handgun in New York City must renew their license every three years, though they do not have to complete a firearm safety course to get a license.
In 2016, 47.8 million Americans visited New York City and the number of domestic visitors has increased every year since 2010, according to the city’s statistics. New York City & Company, the city’s official tourism bureau, compiled a fact sheet with information about what states produce the most visitors to New York City.
According to their data, about 15.8 million New York State residents traveled into the city — about a third of the total visitors — along with 7.2 million New Jersey residents, or 15 percent.
About 3.3 million visitors came from Pennsylvania— 7 percent of the total visitors — and about 2.4 million visitors came from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida — each state represented 5 percent of total visitors.
California accounted for 4 percent of visitors, Maryland and Texas accounted for 3 percent and Virginia accounted for 2 percent.
Combined, nearly 4 million visitors Florida and Texas, which both received F grades from the Gun Law State Scorecard, traveled to New York City in 2016. Nearly 1 million people visit from Virginia, which received a D.
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), individuals can legally transport guns in “locked, hard-sided” containers as part of their checked luggage. The TSA also permits individuals to transport ammunition in their checked luggage.
Eroding state limits
In addition to making it nearly impossible for most city residents to get a concealed carry license, strict firearm laws prohibit New York state civilians who live outside the city from carrying concealed guns in the five boroughs. According to New York State Penal Code:
“A license to carry or possess a pistol or revolver, not otherwise limited as to place or time of possession, shall be effective throughout the state, except that the same shall not be valid within the city of New York unless a special permit granting validity is issued by the police commissioner of that city.”
Fischer says that the existing law honors the city’s “unique public safety needs” instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all mandate that may be more appropriate in low-density places like rural Vermont.
“Given the different requirements even within our state, the federal Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act will only further compound the burden put on our police to be in command of our laws and practices and enforce them to protect our residents,” she says.
Both Jacobs and Johnson say the federal law would not overturn New York State law, which prevents New York residents with concealed carry licenses in other counties to carry handguns in New York City.
However, Jacobs notes, a federal law that enables people from other states to carry guns in New York City at the same time as local law prevents New York State residents from carrying guns in the city would create confusion and erode the existing law.
“[It] would breed hostility and disrespect for the law,” he says. “It would also mean that other states could put New Yorkers at risk.”
Guns and Money
The fight over gun regulations is often depicted as a debate about safety and liberty. But there is also a financial component–in the form of an industry that thrives on a shrinking segment of the American public buying more and more guns, a segment whose sales increase whenever high-profile gun violence indicates the possibility (though almost never the reality) of tighter restrictions.
City Limits has covered this sector since 2012.
Read our coverage here.