NY Subway Shooting Raises Stakes In Supreme Court’s Concealed Carry Decision

supreme court concealed carry
Mtattrain, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

By John R. Lott Jr. for RealClearPolitics

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deliberating on the constitutionality of New York’s “may-issue” concealed handgun law. The ruling will be made within the next few months and will determine whether people have to provide a special reason for getting a concealed handgun permit to defend themselves and their families. But after last week’s shooting on a New York City subway platform, the stakes are even clearer.

The question of banning guns from “sensitive places” was mentioned 30 times during oral arguments last November. Subways were discussed 11 times.

“The idea of proliferating arms on the subway is precisely, I think, what terrifies a great many people,” warned New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood. Justice Elena Kagan echoed those fears. Justice Sam Alito pushed back, noting that disarming people on public transportation means that you also disarm them on their way to and from that transportation. “They have to commute home by subway, maybe by bus. When they arrive at the subway or the bus stop, they have to walk some distance through a high-crime area,” he warned. “[They may be] scared to death.”

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Underwood argued that it wasn’t necessary for people to carry guns on subways because transit police will protect them. Ron Noble, the secretary general of INTERPOL from 2000 to 2014, has extensive experience trying to stop terrorist attacks and cautioned that even with “extraordinary security,” it is virtually impossible to keep weapons out of soft targets. He notes that gun-free zones mean that only the terrorists will have weapons.

Creating gun-free zones just disarms law-abiding permit holders who follow the rules. They actually serve as magnets for those intent on killing as many people as possible, because they know that their victims are defenseless. Frank James, the subway shooting perpetrator, had a lengthy criminal history of sex crimes, larceny, and making terrorist threats. He also certainly didn’t have a concealed handgun permit. 

There is no recorded instance of a permit holder committing any firearm-related crime on public transportation. Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. Incredibly, the annual revocation rate for firearm-related violations is in the hundredths or thousandths of one percentage point.

The revocation rate is so low, in fact, that it is only about one-twelfth the rate at which police officers are convicted of firearms-related crimes. Police are themselves convicted at only about one-twentieth the rate of the general population.

Most of the rare revocations happen to permit holders who accidentally entered a gun-free zone or neglected to carry their concealed handgun licenses.

Those who advocate for gun-free zones argue that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders. But with dozens of cases in recent years of permit holders stopping what otherwise would have been mass public shootings, there is not one example of a permit holder shooting a bystander.

Though the New York City subway is used by those from all walks of life, low-income people are relatively more likely to use public transportation. Poor blacks – the most likely victims of violent crime – are some of the most frequent users of public transit. Unsurprisingly, research shows that they are also the ones who benefit the most from having the ability to protect themselves with permitted concealed handguns. 

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Gun control advocates keep making the same predictions of doom and bloodshed when law-abiding citizens are allowed to have guns for protection. We are continually warned that disaster will ensue if may-issue policies such as New York’s are replaced with “right-to-carry” concealed handgun laws. Public officials, after all, will no longer be able to arbitrarily decide whether applicants have a good enough reason to carry. Right-to-carry laws now exist in 43 states, and these laws go back to the 1920s, but not a single state has reversed its law.

Police officers cannot be in every subway car. Even if an officer was present, an attacker could move on to another target or wait until the officer leaves. A shooter could also aim first for the uniformed officer.

Permit holders can make officers safer. If an attacker tries to kill an officer, he reveals his position and makes himself a target to any permitted bystanders.

There is a reason that 94% of U.S. mass public shootings since 1950 have taken place in gun-free zones. Many of these murderers may be crazy in some sense, but they are not ignorant of local laws. They know they can kill more people in places where citizens can’t defend themselves.

With 25 states now having constitutional carry laws, where it isn’t even necessary for law-abiding gun owners to obtain a permit, states like New York and California are ever more the outliers.

Gun control advocates keep trying to take advantage of the public’s fear of the unknown. They would have us believe that bad things will happen when people are allowed to defend themselves and their families. But New Yorkers and Supreme Court justices don’t have to guess what will happen if “sensitive place” restrictions are ended. Large cities such as Philadelphia, Houston, and Atlanta already allow concealed carry on public transit and in other “sensitive places.” None of the pessimistic narratives have come true.

Syndicated with permission from Real Clear Wire.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Until January 2021, he was the senior adviser for research and statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy where he dealt with issues of vote fraud.

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