The Corner

Law & the Courts

On Guns, New York City Wants It Both Ways

North view of the Manhattan skyline from the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan in New York City, June 24, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal reports that most of the candidates for Manhattan District Attorney are opposed to jailing people for illegal firearms possession:

As New York City grapples with rising violent crime, the Manhattan district attorney candidates are responding with progressive law-enforcement proposals that underscore how different this election is for one of the nation’s top prosecutor jobs. With few exceptions, they have floated proposals for a gun court to keep young defendants out of jail, partnerships with community-based organizations and plans to funnel prosecutor resources to assist police in solving cases.

. . .

Such policies would mark a departure from how Mr. Vance and his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, prosecuted gun cases for four decades. For instance, suspects charged with felony possession of a loaded firearm face a mandatory minimum of 3.5 years in prison. However, when the accused has a minimal criminal history and didn’t shoot or brandish the weapon, Manhattan prosecutors typically offer a plea to a lesser felony and a two-year prison sentence.

Critics have said the candidates’ alternative approaches may be well-suited for simple possession cases but won’t keep Manhattanites safe.

In 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a fast-tracked gun court in Brooklyn, but shootings went up in Brooklyn in 2020.

This development, the Journal notes, is not because New York City has become increasingly peaceful:

The next Manhattan district attorney will take over the $126.1 million, 1,500-employee office after the New York Police Department recorded 468 homicides citywide in 2020, a 47% increase compared with 319 in 2019. In Manhattan, the rise in homicides was higher at 61%.

The number of shooting victims citywide nearly doubled during the same period. In Manhattan shootings increased by more than 40%, hitting low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in northern Manhattan hardest.

City and police officials say increased gang activity has contributed to the violent-crime rise, as police resources were stretched thin by the pandemic and large-scale protests over the killing of George Floyd.

This really is quite bizarre. On the one hand, we hear progressives telling us that it would be a disaster for public safety if the Supreme Court were to strike down any of New York’s draconian firearms laws. On the other, we hear progressives proposing the abolition of serious punishment for violating those draconian laws. How can this possibly make any sense? In effect, the people who wish to run New York are arguing that the city ought to have the toughest laws in the nation, but that those laws will not be meaningfully enforced against criminals. Say what you will about the looser firearms laws that obtain in, say, Texas, but at least nobody in that state is suggesting that prohibited persons should be treated leniently.

Second Amendment advocates such as myself often argue that, in practice, gun-control activists are much more interested in going after law-abiding people than in targeting criminals. By rigorously enforcing its laws, New York City has long served as an exception to this rule. If it, too, descends into magical thinking and lax administration, it will make a farce of its claim to practicality — and, in turn, of the false-but-popular idea that governments in big cities have a compelling interest in safety that outweighs the protection of our right to keep and bear arms.


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