Eric Adams, who was elected as mayor of New York City last November, appeared at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s red carpet event last week in a tuxedo jacket emblazoned with “End Gun Violence” and a “no guns” logo. “Bringing a little swagger back to the Met Gala,” he tweeted, telling Bloomberg news that, “The goal is to end gun violence and save our children.”
Adams campaigned on a platform of public safety, and we’re to understand that stepping out in a high-fashion sandwich board is a sign that he’s serious about tackling crime. Adam’s press secretary gushed, “The mayor has a great sense of style. And he came up with the idea. He wants to send a message specifically. One of the things that is causing problems in our society is gun violence.”
Unfortunately for Adams, creating the appropriate buzz with the gala crowd was likely less effective than socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appearing in a “tax the rich” dress last year. Unlike the wealthy elite in attendance (the target, one assumes, of AOC’s walking billboard), the criminals and gangsters that are driving the Big Apple’s surge in violent crime are unlikely attendees of the Met’s exclusive, $35,000-a-ticket bash.
“End gun violence? Isn’t that HIS job?” asked one commenter responding to the mayor’s “swagger” tweet. Well, yes. In January, Adams released a “Blueprint to End Gun Violence” plan, his “roadmap” to “immediately address the crisis of guns on New York City streets.” One part of his plan calls on the federal government to “pass common-sense legislation” that includes universal background checks, a “long-overdue national ban on assault weapons,” and increased “penalties for those making straw purchases, or buying firearms from someone legally prohibited from doing so.”
As it happens, both state law and New York City’s own criminal law already include these firearm prohibitions (and many, many others). New York City requires a license/permit before a person may lawfully possess a firearm, and the application involves a background check. Under state law, firearm transfers, sales, and exchanges must be made using a licensed dealer, which means a background check, as well. New York State enacted an “assault weapon” ban in 2013, and New York City’s Administrative Code generally prohibits possession or disposition of an “assault weapon.” State law criminalizes “straw purchases” (a felony), acquisitions of guns by anyone legally prohibited from possessing firearms (a felony), and the sale or disposition of a firearm by a “prohibited person” (another felony). Carrying a concealed firearm requires a permit issued at the discretion of local law enforcement. New York State does not recognize valid permits from other states, and a New York State carry permit is not even valid in New York City absent an endorsement from the police commissioner.
One (admittedly crude) indicator of the effectiveness of such restrictions and bans is to judge their impact on crime in places where such laws are already in effect.
New York City Police Department (NYPD) year-to-date crime statistics, released about the same time that the mayor was posing on the red carpet, show that for the week ending May 1, 2022, all major crime categories except murders have double-digit increases as compared to the same time in 2021. Felony assault complaints are up by almost 20%, and robberies have jumped by over 44%. “Shooting incidents” decreased, but by less than one percent.
Persons with a state carry permit make up only an estimated 1.27% of the adult population in New York State. The amicus brief providing this number, filed in the pending NRA-supported Supreme Court case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, No. 20-843, notes that “[l]aw-abiding citizens legally carrying concealed firearms are not the problem” behind the wave of shootings and homicides in the Empire State.
Another amicus brief in Bruen, filed by the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid Caucus and public defender entities, points out that because police are the gun licensing authority, the “NYPD unilaterally decides whose firearm possession is an unlicensed crime and whose is a licensed right.” In 1969, working class, minority residents of the Bronx who called on the NYPD to issue them firearm licenses so they could protect themselves and their families were told,”[i]t’s the policy of this department not to give out permits for people who want to protect themselves.” Not much, it seems, has changed since then.
Curtailing the rights of responsible citizens because of violent criminals who don’t get permits and don’t care about the law doesn’t make for safe communities. If Eric Adams is serious about changing the trajectory of police statistics and protecting residents from violent crime, he could skip the fashion statement and begin by recognizing the tragic public safety implications that his own city’s restrictive gun laws create.