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New York and California are moving to keep firearms away from sites like playgrounds and bars and out of the hands of people who could commit mass shootings. And the gun control group Giffords is pushing a slate of ideas for new state and local policy.
In the aftermath of last month’s Supreme Court decision that threw out gun laws in six states, New York and California have raced to toughen their laws, moving to, among other things, require people who want to carry guns in public to supply character references attesting that arming them won’t bring about yet another mass shooting.
With other states and cities still considering how to respond to the ruling, the gun control group Giffords on Thursday urged lawmakers to enact new restrictions, including barring guns around schools, bars and other “sensitive” places.
The Supreme Court’s opinion will “require an urgent response,” said Giffords in a memo shared exclusively with Route Fifty. Giffords was founded by Gabby Giffords, a former U.S. representative from Arizona who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in 2011.
States and cities have been trying to figure out how to respond to the court’s June 23 decision that weakened their ability to restrict who is allowed to carry around guns.
The court ruled that it was unconstitutional for New York to require a person trying to get a permit to carry a gun in public to explain why they needed one. The ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen also struck down similar restrictions in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
But while the ruling found that states and cities cannot make residents give a reason for why they want to carry a gun, it left the door open for governments to impose other requirements before they allow people to be armed in public.
As a result, California’s Democratic legislature is moving quickly to pass a bill that would more closely scrutinize people before granting them carry permits. The bill would deny the permits for an array of reasons including having been convicted of violent crimes, deemed by psychiatrists assigned by the state as dangerous, or if they’ve posted disturbing things on social media. It would also bar guns from being carried in more places including schools, bars, playgrounds and even bingo halls.
“The Supreme Court took one tool away but they provided a road map to follow,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic California state Sen. Anthony Portantino told Route Fifty in an interview.
Options for Toughening Gun Laws
Giffords, in the memo, urged state and local governments to tighten licensing requirements in much the same way as California is considering, or as New York’s legislature hurried to adopt July 1 just a week after the Supreme Court ruling.
Among other things, the group is urging lawmakers to not allow people to carry guns if they are younger than 21 years old or “do have a history of criminal, violent, or other conduct presenting a risk to public safety.”
For instance, the group said people shouldn’t be allowed to carry guns if background checks show they have been convicted of offenses like threatening or committing violence, stalking, intimidation, hate crimes, driving under intoxication or endangering or abusing children, family members, dating partners or vulnerable adults. People also should not be allowed to be armed in public if there is a restraining order against them or if there are concerns about their mental health, like having been committed to a psychiatric facility.
The group urged that licensing officials be required to look deeper before issuing permits by interviewing character references as well as recent romantic partners and roommates, and then review other information like social media postings.
New York’s reforms are a model for what Giffords would like to see from other states, said David Pucino, deputy chief counsel at Giffords Law Center.
Under the changes, New Yorkers are now allowed to carry guns if they have “the essential character, temperament and judgment necessary to be entrusted with a weapon and to use it only in a manner that does not endanger oneself or others.”
To ensure that, the reforms bar people from being issued a permit for a number of the reasons Giffords recommended, including having been convicted in the past five years of third-degree assault, driving while intoxicated, menacing or having been in drug treatment.
Those applying for a permit to carry a firearm in New York are now required to meet in person with a licensing official, and provide contact information for spouses, domestic partners and any adults they live with, as well as four character references.
They also have to supply the licensing official with any social media accounts they’ve had the past three years.
Similarly, the California bill will require in-person interviews before a license is given, as well as interviews with three character witnesses, including one who lives with the person. Plus, there would be a review of anything the individual has posted online.
The bill would also deny permits for committing a similar list of crimes as in New York, but would look back 10 years at the person’s past.
In addition, California would order the person to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. The license would be denied if they are deemed as being a danger to themselves or the community.
“The goal is to make sure that when you issue a permit, it’s to a law-abiding, upstanding citizen to protect their private property,” said Portantino, the state senator. “It’s not putting guns in the hands of people who frankly can’t handle it. If you’ve been convicted of domestic violence or had a restraining order issued against you, or made violent threats, you’ve said you can’t handle it.”
Broader Protection for 'Sensitive Places'
Giffords also urged lawmakers “to provide broader protection to more public spaces” by barring guns in more places.
Among them: “Places where children and students congregate,” as well as places where alcohol is served, and where “groups of people are confined in a particularly dense and/or emotionally charged atmosphere, such as sports stadiums and concert venues,” protests and polling places, and on mass transit.
New York’s new laws ban guns in many of those places, including those that serve alcohol, day care facilities, playgrounds, educational institutions, domestic violence and homeless shelters, entertainment venues, places of worship, medical facilities, libraries, on public transportation and in Times Square in New York City.
Significantly, Pucino said, New York now bars guns on private property, including businesses, unless property owners put up signs saying that guns are allowed.
The California bill would bar guns from a similar list of places as in New York, but also includes wildlife areas except where hunting is allowed, places with gambling activities including race tracks and bingo halls, amusement parks and nuclear power plants.
“One person’s rights doesn’t take away the rights of others to congregate safely in places,” Portantino said, who acknowledged the bill is drawing opposition from gun rights advocates.
New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy also announced the day after the ruling that he will work with state lawmakers to “expand the number of places where firearms cannot be carried, including locations with a high density of people, locations with inherently vulnerable.”
Lawsuits on the Way
The bills containing reforms being pushed by Giffords, however, are likely to end up in court. Michael Hammond, counsel to the gun rights group, Gun Owners of America, said in an interview that he is having conversations with gun owners in New York about contesting the state’s new restrictions.
Asked which regulation was the most vulnerable to be challenged, he said there were too many to pick one. But he expressed concern about denying permits to carry guns based on what people write on social media.
The court’s decision, written by conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left the door open to the court allowing guns to be barred in places like government buildings and schools. But Hammond noted that Thomas also indicated that there are limits on what the court will allow. Thomas wrote that it would “lack merit” to “effectively declare the island of Manhattan a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is crowded and protected generally by the New York City Police Department.”
Portantino, though, said sensitive places in his California bill were based on “objective standards.”
What Other States Are Considering
Other states are evaluating their options, vowing to take steps. Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, said at a news conference after the Supreme Court ruling that the state will consider legislation similar to the one in New York.
Some states, meanwhile, say they have strong licensing requirements to carry guns and appear to be in less of a hurry.
“Everything is on the table to try to keep Hawaii the state with the lowest levels of gun violence,” Sen. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the Hawaii Senate’s judiciary committee, said in an email.
However, in a July 7 memo to Hawaii Gov. David Ige, State Attorney General Holly Shikada wrote that police chiefs in the state can use a number of factors in determining who can carry firearms, even after the Supreme Court decision. Chiefs are required by state law to only license people who “‘[a]ppear to be a suitable person,” which Shikada wrote, means that they have not been recently involved in domestic violence, careless storage of firearms, abuse of alcohol or drugs or committed violence.
Ige is reviewing the memo, his spokeswoman, Cindy McMillan, said in an email. “We will continue to enforce our firearms laws, consistent with federal constitutional requirements, to help keep our community safe,” she said.
In Massachusetts, spokespeople for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker did not return inquiries. But according to The Boston Globe, police chiefs still have wide discretion over licensing people to carry guns, leading to different standards across the state. In Boston, the city can restrict licenses to only “business activities” if a person says they are applying for a license because they carry a lot of money.
A spokesman for Baker told a local NPR station that the administration does not expect any immediate effect on state laws because of the Supreme Court ruling.
Meanwhile, Giffords’ Pucino said he hasn’t seen cities offer proposals for how to respond to the ruling. Spokespeople for major cities did not return inquiries to Route Fifty as of publication.
Pucino said a problem for some cities is state preemption laws that keep localities from being able to act. Giffords in Thursday’s memo urged states to loosen the restrictions.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.