The New York City Council is considering a bill that defines the parameters of Times Square, in order to put boundaries around the area where firearms will continue to be prohibited, even as the rules for carrying concealed handguns loosen across the country.
This June, the Supreme Court upended more than a century of gun control that had effectively barred firearms in public areas across the city. New York State had granted local authorities discretion on whether to grant concealed carry permits and the NYPD, which oversaw the city’s permitting process, rarely allowed them. But the Court found that type of restriction violated the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers.
In the days after that ruling, Democratic New York State lawmakers rushed to pass the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, creating rules for the public on places where firearms will continue to be barred, with or without a concealed carry permit. Those locations include houses of worship, polling sites, schools, homeless shelters and theaters, plus one specific location: The “area commonly known as Times Square.”
Yet the state left it up to the city to determine the precise boundaries of Times Square, which has been loosely defined in the past as a bow-tie-shaped area at the heart of Broadway. The bill sets specific boundaries: One section between Eighth and Sixth Avenues from West 40th to West 53rd Streets, an area that actually includes Times Square, and a second adjoining section between Eighth and Ninth Avenues from West 40th to West 48th Streets — an area that butts up against the Port Authority.
Anyone who wishes to carry a gun in New York City will still need a permit from the NYPD. Police are still deciding how to adjust the permitting process to comply with the Supreme Court decision.
In a public safety hearing Tuesday on the bill, city lawmakers grappled with the challenge of carving out specific “sensitive locations” from the rest of the city, where shootings have increased over the last couple of years.
“This feels very surreal to me, that we’re talking about a New York where people are going to be carrying,” said Council Member Erik Bottcher, who represents Times Square. “I can’t really believe we’re having this conversation and it’s because of the Supreme Court, because of what they did.”
Council members also expressed concern that permitted gun holders wouldn’t know about Times Square's new designation when it goes into effect on Thursday. But NYPD officials said signs will go up around Times Square declaring it a gun-free zone, and they are working with the Department of Transportation to create electronic signs warning of the new law. Violators could be charged with a felony; NYPD officials also said those found with a weapon could have it confiscated
The firearm-free Times Square zone proposed by city lawmakers doesn't include the interiors of buildings within that area, unless they’re otherwise considered a sensitive location, like houses of worship or polling sites.
There are also exceptions for residents of Times Square who have concealed carry permits, and travelers moving through Times Square in a “continuous, uninterrupted fashion” with an unloaded weapon separated from the ammunition, according to Robert Barrows, the NYPD’s executive director of legal operations.
“Times Square is a dense, complex, and highly trafficked area,” Barrows said. “And the state and city are right to protect this iconic piece of New York, while recognizing the particular interest of firearms licensees who live and work in the area.”
This story has been updated with additional information.