On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment confers the right to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the court’s conservative majority voided the state’s requirement that gun owners show “proper cause” to carry a concealed firearm in public, and ruled that issuing authorities in seven other states no longer have the discretion to deny permits to concealed carry applicants if all the requirements are met.
In the wake of the decision, there’s been a lot of confusion about the scope of the ruling. Were New York’s concealed carry laws “struck down,” as many media outlets have reported? Can anyone now carry a gun in Times Square?
Readers wrote to us with questions. Here, we answer some of them. (Got a question of your own? Submit it here.)
“Does this mean anyone with a permit can now carry a gun on the New York City subway?”
No. Four days after the Bruen decision, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law banning concealed carry of firearms in more than a dozen “sensitive locations,” including on public transit. Beginning September 1, subways, buses, and regional commuter trains will legally be gun-free zones.
New York lawmakers also declared several other places to be sensitive locations where guns will be banned. These include government buildings, places of worship, polling sites, bars, restaurants that serve alcohol, medical facilities, public demonstrations, and Times Square. Private businesses will now prohibit guns by default, unless property owners decide to allow guns in their establishments. Separately, the hotel industry and its trade union have agreed to ban firearms in New York City hotels.
“Will New York City turn into Texas now, with everybody packing heat?”
That’s highly unlikely, at least in the short term, says Michael Marten, a retired police lieutenant who supervised the New York Police Department’s gun licensing division for eight years and now operates a pistol permit consultancy in the city. By passing a slew of regulations that make most places no-carry zones, New York State lawmakers “made it so that you can basically walk to your car and your house and back with a carry [permit] right now” and nowhere else, Marten says.
Even with the elimination of the proper cause requirement, authorities can still deny applicants based on an evaluation of their “moral character,” says Jerold Levine, a New York City lawyer who focuses on gun cases. The NYPD interprets that broadly, he said, “so if you have a record of arrests, or you have DWIs, even if you weren’t convicted of any of them, they’ll use that as showing bad character, and they’ll hold that against you.”
With their post-Bruen gun legislation, New York lawmakers have given licensing authorities even more reasons to deny applicants, expanding the disqualifying criteria to include acts of violence that didn’t result in convictions, misdemeanor gun convictions that aren’t federally disqualifying, alcohol-related misdemeanors, and past substance abuse treatment. “The state is engaging in every effort it can to minimize the effect of Bruen for as long as they can,” Levine said.
Another reason city dwellers won’t be shoulder-to-shoulder with concealed carriers anytime soon: The application process takes a long time. “Nobody’s really going to have one of these licenses in their hand for at least a year,” said Marten, the retired NYPD lieutenant. “Even before this ruling, the people who put their application in at the beginning of the pandemic waited almost two years. And now I’m sure they’re getting a ton of applications” because of the ruling, he said.
Gun safety experts and law enforcement officials have warned that expanded concealed carry will mean more guns will be kept in cars, where thieves can easily steal them — something that’s fueled the criminal market for years. But storing a gun in your car can cost you your carry license, Levine says, making it even more prohibitive to carry in New York City. “The Police Department has never recognized storage in a car as a legitimate thing,” he said. “They’ve always regarded that as a failure to safeguard. If you are not personally in charge of the weapon, that’s it. I’ve had clients who lost their licenses for this.”
Both Levine and Marten say they expect New York’s strict eligibility criteria to be challenged in court, and some of it to be reversed. But that could take years. In the meantime, issuing authorities, police, and attorneys are scrambling to keep gun owners informed. Without guidance from the state, it’s an uphill battle.
“I’ve gotten calls from a couple of guys in the Police Department who tell me that people are walking up to them on the streets now asking, ‘I can carry my gun now, right?’” Levine said, clarifying: “No murderers are getting guns here. People who have records of getting arrested for beating up their girlfriend, even if they didn’t get convicted of anything, those people are all going to continue to be denied. That doesn’t change.”
“Will gun carry permits from other states be now recognized in New York State?”
No. New York is one of 10 states (and Washington, D.C.) that do not honor concealed carry licenses issued by other states, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t change that. It’s up to each state legislature to decide which states’ permits to honor, a policy known as reciprocity.
“Can an out-of-state resident now get a permit to carry, or carry without a permit in New York State?”
The ruling hasn’t changed New York State law regarding out-of-state gun carriers or unlicensed gun carriers. It’s generally not permitted — but there are a few exceptions.
To the first part of the question: State law requires gun owners to apply for a pistol permit in the county where they live, work, or own a business. Some counties require proof of residency, such as utility, telephone, or cable bills, or a voter registration card. A 2013 New York appeals court decision established that people who own a home in New York State, but only live there part-time, or out-of-state residents who work full-time in New York State or own a business there, are also eligible for New York pistol permits.
Second, New York is not one of the 25 “permitless carry” states that allow people to carry concealed guns in public without a license or training. So out-of-state residents cannot carry a gun in New York State without a permit. If you’re visiting New York, you need to leave your firearm at home. Levine, the gun attorney, says he’s represented several people who’ve been arrested trying to bring guns into New York City airports, which is a felony. Levine says federal law allows people to board a plane with a gun as long as it’s unloaded, stored in a locked, hard-sided container, and checked in at the airline ticket counter — and possession of the firearm doesn’t violate local law.
“What if I’m just passing through New York on my way somewhere else? Can I bring my gun with me?”
If you’re driving through New York State to get to another state, Levine says, federal law allows you to travel with a firearm as long as it’s stored in a locked container in the trunk, separate from the ammunition, and inaccessible to the car’s passengers. He says if a police officer pulls you over, you’re not required to declare the firearm, but if the officer asks you directly if you have a gun in the car, you cannot lie. And avoid the five boroughs entirely, Levine cautions: “In New York City, they will always arrest you first and ask questions later.”
If you’re a licensed concealed carrier in another state who plans to move to New York, you must obtain a New York State gun permit. You cannot use your home state’s permit in New York. But there is a grace period to obtain a New York permit, as long as your home state’s permit is still active. (That grace period, though, does not apply in New York City.)
“I have a gun permit for target practice and hunting in New York. Can I now carry my pistol at all times?”
Not yet. New York generally issues four types of handgun permits: a premises permit, which lets you keep a pistol in your home; a business carry permit, which lets you carry a gun at work; a hunting and target practice permit, which lets you carry a gun during those activities; and an unrestricted carry permit, which lets you carry a concealed handgun for any reason, most often for self-defense. Your type of permit was issued for hunting and target practice only, and prohibits handgun carry for personal protection. For that, you may need to apply for an unrestricted carry permit. The SCOTUS decision just made that easier, however.
That’s because the Bruen case actually hinged on this very question. The case’s plaintiffs, Rensselaer County residents Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, were granted permits that allowed them to carry a concealed gun for hunting and target practice only. They asked the local issuing authority to remove the permit’s limitations and allow them to carry guns for self-defense. Their requests were denied on the grounds that they didn’t demonstrate proper cause, specifically a “special need” for self-defense.
The Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, voiding New York’s proper cause requirement. That doesn’t mean their gun permits are automatically unrestricted — but it’s unclear whether they will need to reapply under the new rules. Pistol permit issuing authorities in New York say they’re awaiting instruction on how to proceed, as the governor’s office hasn’t issued any guidance. “We’ve been told to keep checking NY.gov,” the state’s official website, for updates, said Theresa Montilli, a police service aide at the Nassau County Police Department. “Until then, it’s the status quo for the unrestricted permits.”
We’ve reached out to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office for clarity; we’ll update this story if we receive a response.
“I have a New York State Ulster County carry permit. Will it be good in the five boroughs?”
No. According to state law, a pistol carry license issued outside New York City is valid everywhere in the state except the five boroughs. So a permit issued in Ulster County isn’t recognized in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, or Staten Island. The SCOTUS decision doesn’t change that.
To carry a gun in the city, an upstate resident needs to apply for a special permit issued by the New York City Police Department, Levine says, and the process is just as lengthy as starting the permitting process from scratch. (To apply for a gun carry license in New York City, applicants must furnish photographs and fingerprints, provide the names of employers and domestic partners, supply character references, designate someone to take custody of their weapon in the event of their death, and pay a nonrefundable fee of $428.)
“Can you clarify whether the Supreme Court case is focused on open carry or concealed carry?”
Bruen concerns the concealed carry of handguns. However, it has something to say about open carry, as well.
In addition to striking down New York’s proper cause requirement, the ruling rewrote the methodology federal courts use when deciding Second Amendment cases. So now, to determine a gun law’s constitutionality, lower courts must consider only whether it has a historical precedent, not whether it furthers the government’s interests in things like reducing crime. In his majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged that in the 18th and 19th centuries, states “could lawfully eliminate one kind of public carry — concealed carry — so long as they left open the option to carry openly.” Because gun laws now require a historical analogue to be constitutional, Thomas appears to be suggesting that if New York wanted to keep its concealed carry law, it could do so, as long as people are allowed to wear guns on their hips or slung around their shoulders.
It’s doubtful New York would ever adopt open carry. It’s one of only four states that prohibit the open carry of handguns, according to Giffords Law Center. But Eric Ruben, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, says this open carry trade-off might be useful for the other states affected by the Bruen ruling — including California, Hawaii, and New Jersey — where issuing authorities are no longer able to require proper cause or have the discretion to deny gun permits to people who meet all the qualifications.
“Could the new SCOTUS ruling be used to allow guns in federal buildings? Why couldn’t a lawyer argue that they had a need for self-defense while arguing a case at the Supreme Court?”
Under federal law, guns are banned in federal buildings, including courthouses. And even if there was no gun ban in federal buildings, the Bruen decision allows for one. Courthouses were one of the sensitive places where guns were not allowed in the 18th and 19th centuries, Thomas notes, satisfying the stipulation that gun laws are constitutional if they have a historical analogue.
In New York, lawmakers went one step further, including local, state, and federal courthouses in its list of sensitive places where concealed guns will be banned.
Chip Brownlee contributed reporting.