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Albany passes strengthened gun laws in wake of SCOTUS ruling

ALBANY, N.Y. — After a grueling two-day special session, state lawmakers Friday evening passed new gun laws to mitigate the effects of a Supreme Court ruling last week that unraveled century-old state licensing rules.

The high court ruled that New York’s requirement that applicants show good cause to carry concealed firearms was too prohibitive, and legislators returned to Albany Thursday to shore up the state’s gun laws in response.

The Concealed Carry Improvement Act, adopted 43-20 by the Senate Friday afternoon and 91-51 by the Assembly later in the night, requires applicants display “good moral character,” pass a firearm safety course and provide data from their social media accounts as part of strengthened background checks.

It also defines “sensitive locations” — such as schools, polling places and certain public gathering areas — where weapons are off-limits for most permit holders.

“We are trying to create uniformity, which is what really the Supreme Court asked us to do and … we hit that mark and are making New York safe,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters ahead of the bill’s passage Friday, adding that “people will be very clear about how they can go about getting permit.”

Lawmakers have been trying to thread the needle to narrowly tailor the application process without imposing subjective or arbitrary restrictions. And Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration said Friday the “good moral character” requirement was not too subjective to pass muster.

“First of all, the moral character standard was not an issue in the Supreme Court, and it’s been issued in other states,” Counsel to the Governor Liz Fine said during a press conference. “I don’t think there is a question that the state has the authority and the responsibility to review applicants for licenses to make sure that they are not going to pose a danger to themselves if they are able to get a gun.”

Licensing agents will review each applicant, and individuals who are denied will be given a chance to appeal, she said.

Applicants must participate in a firearm safety course, undergo “enhanced screening” with in-person interviews and submit to reviews of their social media. Additionally, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services will review permit holders’ records monthly for criminal convictions, criminal indictments and protection orders.

Purchasing ammunition would also trigger a background check by DCJS, and the bill further restricts the types of body armor that can be sold. And Hochul said Friday she’d tear up a deal struck under her predecessor Andrew Cuomo that stalled the implementation of an ammo sales database.

The law also designates gun-free “sensitive places” where illegally possessing a firearm constitutes a class E felony.

Such locations include government buildings; any location providing health, behavioral health or chemical dependence care or services; any place of worship or religious observation; libraries; public playgrounds; public parks; zoos; the location of any state funded or licensed programs; educational institutions both in elementary and higher education; any vehicle used for public transportation; all public transit including airports and bus terminals; bars and restaurants; entertainment, gaming and sporting events and venues; polling places; any public sidewalk or public area restricted for a special event; and protests or rallies.

The Supreme Court’s decision preserved the right to designate sensitive places, but warned that lawmakers couldn’t cover swaths of the city.

“Put simply, there is no historical basis for New York 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,” the opinion read.

The law also prohibits the use of firearms on private property, unless the property owner allows it. Business owners can display a sign on their property to allow concealed carry weapons on the premises. If there is no sign, concealed carry permit owners should assume firearms are off-limits.

Several groups are exempt, including current and retired law enforcement, peace officers, security guards who have a special armed registration card, and active-duty military. The law also allows hunting and hunting education, with the proper licensing.

Once Hochul signs it, the law will go into effect on Sept. 1 and the DCJS will have until April to implement a background check database and gun training courses.