This weekend, in the wake of the massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams raised some eyebrows when he announced he would bring his own gun into houses of worship in the future, and encouraged off-duty officers to do the same. "I'm not going to live the way it ought to be, I'm going to live the way it is," he said at a news conference outside a Jewish family services center in Midwood on Sunday.
Adams's statement echoed something President Trump said after the deadly shooting: "If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him," he said. That assertion drew widespread condemnation, in part because armed officers did respond to the scene on Saturday, exchanging gunfire with alleged shooter Robert Bowers. Four on-duty officers in tactical gear were shot and injured, and Bowers was allegedly still able to kill 11 people with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns.
Adams's remarks were met with skepticism by many city officials, including City councilman Mark Levine, former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, and Mayor Bill de Blasio. We spoke to Adams about the controversial statements, and why he thinks it's the right way to keep worshipers safe.
We've seen there's been a bit of pushback from other local politicians, including former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor de Blasio, who said, "Houses of worship do not have to have armed guards to be able to practice their religions...That’s not America." I wanted to see what your reaction to that is.
Okay, now think about it for a moment. After the Pittsburgh incident, what did we put in front of all of our synagogues in the city? We put heavily armed police officers, with in some cases automatic weapons, assault weapons. That is the image you see: just about every synagogue has a patrol car, some of the larger ones we had an ESU unit with a tactical force with heavily armed guards, at the doors of all of these synagogues. After the assault in North Carolina, we did the same thing for our Christian churches. We put the police officers with heavy guns in front of these places of worship.
So if we placed them out front on duty, what is the radical change to say, if you attend this synagogue or church or mosque or Sikh temple, if you are an attendee there, communicate with the leader inside your church. Let them know that you are an off-duty police officer, coordinate with them on where you should sit that you could have a view of the entire perimeter, and that the people who run the service can notify you if a person enters who is suspicious, and you could take appropriate action.
A police officer is required by department policy...it is strongly encouraged that he or she carries their weapon 24 hours a day. The only restrictions placed on them is if you are going to consume alcohol—that is the only restriction. Not if you enter a house of worship, but if you are going to consume alcohol. If the mayor and police commissioner goes inside the church or synagogue, they go inside with their detail, and said detail have guns.
Are all New York City officers trained for situations like this? Are there officers who carry guns who may not have the right training for these sort of scenarios?
The answer is yes, we all train. We obviously get hours of training in the police academy. That is why I specifically stated that this is not something that should be for permit holders or target practice holders or people who have carry permits. They are not given training of evacuation. They're not given the training of how to deal with a stressful encounter. Police officers are given a multi-layer of training of how to discharge their weapon when they're off-duty, how to display the shields, what to do if they are confronted by responding uniformed officers. There's an entire series of training that the average New York City police officers go through to be prepared in situations like this that a person who's a mere permit holder never receives.
There have been a lot of studies and academic papers in recent years that point to the fact that having more guns around does not necessarily keep people safer, and can increase the likelihood of there being a gun incident. Faced with incidents like this, is the best solution to increase or encourage more gun use? Why not promote more rules and restrictions and limits on gun ownership, other sorts of policy to stop unhinged people from getting the guns in the first place?
I think what you're asking is logical and reasonable. Keep in mind that when you look at those studies, those studies are dealing with everyday people without the proper training of dealing with a stressful situation. Those studies are not dealing with police officers. If we're just talking about the O.K. Corral, where everyone brings their guns into a house of worship, that's a problem.
Because not enough people understand how to properly respond—how to identify a threat, and how to terminate a threat. So the studies that everyone is pointing to, these are not studies involved police officers. They're studies involving those areas where everyone is allowed to carry a gun. That is not what I am saying. So yes, we should be looking at ways of preventing guns. I led the conversation in the state. If one Googles my record on making firearms and guns difficult to obtain, I led that legislation. I showed how easy it is to bring in high speed assault rifles walking down Broadway from Westchester County into the Bronx. I did an undercover sting to show how easy you can walk into a gun shop with just a driver's license and get a high speed ammunition clips. This has been my conversation, anti-violence, and we're dealing with two different scenarios.
Here's where we are right now in America based on the trends that we can acknowledge: there is an energy in the country that an individual [will] wake up in the morning and state, "I want to hurt a particular group based on their ethnicity." Then...they are going to the locations where the groups congregate. So if I want to shoot someone that's a Sikh, I'm going to a Sikh temple. If that person wants to shoot someone that is Jewish, they go into a synagogue. So people who have these evil intentions are going to locations where people congregate. And we can't ignore that. And the best tool we have are those officers—and I'm going to be very clear on what I'm calling for—those officers who attend the particular house of worship, communicating with the leadership of those houses and the staff that runs the services, identifying themselves as an off-duty officer, carrying a gun that the department states they should carry at all times, communicating with any officer out front.
This is the type of coordination that will enhance the security of any house of worship. People that go to pray should not become human prey. And I don't know anyone—even people who criticize me—when I present them with a question, when you're sitting inside a church or synagogue or mosque with your family, someone walks in with an automatic rifle, puts 13 rounds in a clip into that gun, cock it back, and start discharging one at a time at innocent people. And if you know there's a police officer who's off-duty who worships there, part of your prayer is to pray that he's armed that he could stop this person.
Even if you call the cops, which takes five minutes on average to come, it's not going to stop the innocent lives of people who are being killed, as we saw in North Carolina where about 20 people were shot, 11 people in Pittsburgh. These numbers are real. All I ask, what I want from the public is what I want for my family, and that is to have legal men and women who are trained to prevent innocent people from losing their lives.
What would you say to people who feel uncomfortable with any weapons being inside a synagogue or church? People who would say, "okay, they're outside the synagogue and that is what it is, but we don't want weapons or guns being brought inside our places of worship?"
And I respect that. If the congregants, if the people who run the service—the rabbi, the pastor, the Imam—if that's their decision, I respect that. But we should at least give people the opportunity to make that decision. Many people are not aware that police officers carry their guns on and off-duty. So people should at least be allowed to make that decision, to factor it into their security plan. They may tell the officer, "we don't want you to carry your gun, but we would like you to be placed somewhere in the service where you can use your law enforcement experience to do an analysis if there is a danger here."
And in my conversations with many of my faith leaders, many of them now currently have armed security in their churches. And this is not new. This is not something that started with this weekend's shooting. We started this conversation after the North Carolina shooting—we asked faith leaders to start doing an analysis of their law enforcement personnel to assist in security.
What do you say when President Trump suggests that we start training teachers and the gun lobby wants to start arming children, and we start training members of these communities in these scenarios? Is that an acceptable response to these scenarios?
No, it's not. I think, number one, President Trump has created some of the energy that is causing some of these attacks, in my opinion. And number two, there's no replacement for a trained police officer, who not only received his training in his academies or his instructional services. Not only do they receive in-service repeated training, but they also have real life experiences of interacting with people and using police sixth sense to determine if there's a dangerous situation and how to terminate that right.