In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision making it easier to carry guns in public places, the thoughts of many New Yorkers immediately turned underground.
The city’s subway system has long banned firearms, with exceptions for law enforcement officers or the small number of people with concealed carry licenses. Those rules, officials said, will not immediately change.
But the 6-3 decision, which struck down a century-old New York statute that gave local officials broad discretion to deny concealed carry permits, will likely pave the way for more people to carry firearms in public spaces. And the city’s transit system, where millions of riders jostle each other in confined spaces each day, could soon see an influx of guns at a time when New Yorkers continue to cite subway crime as among their top anxieties.
“The more you load up everyone with guns, the more guns just go off,” said Nathaniel Hendrix, a bottle collector in Times Square.
He was among the transit riders and workers who expressed a mix of fear and indignation in the wake of Thursday’s ruling – in some cases accusing the conservative-leaning court of imposing a dangerous precedent in a dense urban environment they don’t understand.
“It’s not a small town community where there’s one messed up situation,” Hendrix continued. “There’s stuff happening here all the time, and now you want to put guns in everybody’s hands? Very smart.”
Bonnie Osborn, a producer in Bushwick, echoed the sentiment, noting that the addition of more guns would only heighten the sense of danger she’s felt while riding the subway since the start of the pandemic.
“The train, in particular for women, is a little iffy,” she said. “The idea of having more guns in general around makes me nervous.”
The ruling follows a spate of high-profile incidents on the subway, including two shootings on subway trains in the last two months. Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams said the looming decision had kept him up at night.
“Can you imagine being on the 4 train with someone having a 9mm exposed?” he asked.
For some riders, the hypothetical conjured fears of an impending arms race.
“If everyone else is going to have a gun, why not?” mused one transit worker, who declined to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.
Julia Cesar Diaz, who performs alongside a puppet in Times Square subway station, said someone had recently stolen his equipment while he used the bathroom.
“If they have it and I don’t have it, I have to defend myself,” he said, through a translator.
Kristof Brandon, a tourist visiting from Belgium with his family, said he was also perplexed by the recent ruling – and would likely avoid the subways on his next visit if he was forced to confront the sight of guns.
“It’s weird that people are allowed to carry guns, for us,” he said. “Every time we hear about a shooting we think: why don’t you change those gun laws to not allow people to carry guns and buy them in shops? But it’s your country.”
In a statement on Thursday, an attorney for the MTA said the agency was in the process of reassessing its current rules, which exempt members of law enforcement and those with a concealed carry license from the ban on firearms.
Tony Utano, the president of the Transit Workers Union, called on the agency, as well as city and state officials, to “use whatever power they have to the greatest extent to restrict the prevalence of guns in our transit system.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she would reconvene the state Legislature to pass a law preventing individuals from carrying guns in certain areas, such as the subway, schools and restaurants.
The court has previously held that concealed carry may be banned in sensitive locations. But Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the decision, noted that the state could not simply “declare the island of Manhattan a ‘sensitive place,’” and any attempts to roll back the ruling will likely prompt legal challenges.
In Midtown on Wednesday, Channing Stewart, a tourist from Kentucky, said she had mixed feelings about the Supreme Court decision. While she and her husband both have concealed carry permits, they noted their home state had recently done away with a training requirement, leaving them uneasy.
“We have a gun safe and it’s locked up and there’s no access,” Stewart said. “If you’re responsible that’s one thing, but it just takes one irresponsible person.”