Does New York City Need Gun Control? New York City has stricter gun laws than most other American cities — and lower rates of gun violence. But legal challenges could force the city to loosen its gun control. Will a rise in crime follow?
NPR logo

Does New York City Need Gun Control?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/788440932/791205635" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Does New York City Need Gun Control?

Does New York City Need Gun Control?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/788440932/791205635" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

New York City has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, but Second Amendment activists hope that the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court will, sooner or later, make it easier to legally have a gun in America's biggest city. NPR's Martin Kaste has more.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: This is one of the few places in New York City where it's legal to shoot a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

KASTE: It's the Westside Rifle and Pistol Range on West 20th.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

KASTE: It's about as cramped as any sublet. The owner-operator Darren Leung calls it a New York oddity.

DARREN LEUNG: We're probably the last commercial range in Manhattan.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

KASTE: If you have a gun license in Manhattan, this is where you practice. But he says having a legal gun here is really hard.

LEUNG: Very, very difficult to obtain a license, very costly.

KASTE: He says the city has a reputation for denying gun license applications, and even gun licenses from other parts of New York state are not valid here in the city. There are even strict rules for how to transport guns.

LEUNG: Have the weapon unloaded in a locked box with a trigger lock on it with a lock on that box. The ammunition and magazine would have to be separate from that box. They don't want you to have the ability to use the firearm in a situation.

KASTE: As a result, guns are just scarcer here in everyday life. You see it in the stats. Despite an uptick this year, New York's murder rate is still much lower than in other big cities, and the share of murders committed with guns - that's lower, too - just 54%, compared to an average of 80%.

You get a sense of the city's attitude toward guns here at the NYPD 75th Precinct, a bunker of a building in Brooklyn. Upstairs is the field intelligence office run by Sergeant Damon Martin.

DAMON MARTIN: My office isn't that big, but we've pretty much covered all four walls with pictures of our gun seizures.

KASTE: Each picture is tagged with the legal basis for the seizure. Sometimes it's SW, for search warrant, but often, it just says consent. That's a big one here for these field intel officers because that's what they do. They talk to people who've just been arrested, and then they get written consent to go find their guns.

MARTIN: I feel like I'm doing a gentlemen's job, and I feel pretty good about it because I have great results. You see the results. They're here. They are on the wall.

KASTE: But here's the question. This kind of police work, this intense, nonstop search for guns - does it depend on having strict gun laws? Does it depend on legal guns being so hard to license? What Sergeant Martin can say is, right now, it's pretty easy for him to know when a gun is illegal.

MARTIN: You have to be licensed through the license division, and if you don't, you're illegally carrying a firearm. The bottom line is they're unlicensed to carry a firearm.

TOM KING: No law is going to keep a criminal from getting a gun or committing a crime with a firearm.

KASTE: That's Tom King, the executive director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. That's the group that brought the current case to the Supreme Court against the city. That case was specifically about the rules for transporting guns, but he thinks in this age of greater judicial sympathy for Second Amendment rights, the city's barriers to legal gun ownership in general are unsustainable and unfair.

KING: If people live in dangerous neighborhoods and they want a firearm in their house to protect themselves, they're taking a chance of making themselves a criminal to protect themselves and to protect their families. Is that right?

KASTE: And it is worth remembering that New York City had tough gun laws a generation ago when the city's murder rate was five times higher. Criminal justice researcher and author Thomas Abt.

THOMAS ABT: I don't think we know whether it is the gun laws in New York City or it is the enforcement of those laws or it is some third possibility that is driving the low rates of gun violence.

KASTE: Abt says you have to keep in mind that New York is simply richer now, and it can afford more cops and more anti-violence programs than other cities. He says there's also been some speculation about the effect of New York's anti-gun attitude.

ABT: There is this notion that New York City as a whole treats guns and gun possession more seriously than some other jurisdictions. I'm not sure we have the evidence to back that up as of yet.

KASTE: But Timothy Washington believes it. He works for Man Up Inc., a nonprofit in Brooklyn that intervenes with young men who are likely to get caught up in violence. He says they are well aware of the city's strict gun laws.

TIMOTHY WASHINGTON: And people be like, oh, I could come right outside my house, police run down on me and, boom, I got five years on a first offense 'cause I got a gun.

KASTE: He says New York's anti-gun reputation also affects outsiders who come here.

WASHINGTON: I know individuals with gun licenses and gun permits, and they still won't take the chance to bring their gun to New York because they just see how strict the gun laws are.

KASTE: That hesitation might disappear, he says, if the city were forced to loosen its laws. That's just conjecture right now, but it's one that could be tested in practice if gun rights groups have their way in court.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.