On Friday afternoon, Margaret W. was waiting for an M train at the Court Square station in Queens when she spotted something unsettling: a rectangular black case, mounted to the wall of the Manhattan-bound platform, apparently meant to hold a large firearm.
"I'm absolutely sure [it] was a gun case for a large assault rifle style gun," Margaret, a Greenpoint resident, wrote to Gothamist. "It was secured vertically to the wall and clearly labeled 'Gun Guard Plano.' It was also padlocked shut and wired with an extension cord into a power outlet above the platform." Like many elements of our ever-tattered transit system, she reported, the case was secured to the wall with electrical tape.
After a quick Google search revealed the product to be a "lockable, weatherproof hard-sided gun case" designed for assault style rifles, Margaret heeded the subway's ubiquitous instructions to See Something, Say Something. She dialed the 888-NYC-Safe hotline, spoke to a person who seemed “very concerned," and was transferred to 911. The dispatcher promised to send someone out immediately.
But when Margaret returned six hours later, the mysterious storage box was still there. Frustrated, she avoided the station for the weekend.
On Monday, we asked the MTA and the NYPD if they were aware of the fact that an assault rifle case was plugged in to the wall of the Manhattan-bound platform of the Court Square station with the aid of electrical tape. The police department referred our comments to an MTA spokesperson, who did not immediately respond.
At 5:30 p.m., Margaret returned to the platform to find the gun case, still affixed to the wall, but now bearing a cautionary note: "Vibration Monitoring Equipment, Property Of Structural Engineer Technologies." In bolded font, the label warned: "DO NOT TOUCH."
Spotted on Monday night with updated labeling. (Courtesy of Margaret W.)
"Is that true?" wondered Margaret. "That still seems sketchy." A phone call to the listed number was not immediately returned.
The MTA did eventually respond to our queries later on in the evening. They confirmed that the case held vibration monitors, adding that the original manufacturer's brand name had been mistakenly revealed as a consequence of the authority's increasingly vigilant approach to keeping our subways clean. (You're welcome?)
Explained MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek: "This case was used by a contractor to house vibration monitoring equipment, chosen as an off-the-shelf product with a slim shape and high security. It had adhesive labeling on it identifying it as NYC Transit test equipment but that labeling was washed off during a recent station power washing. It was a mistake on the contractor’s part to allow the manufacturer’s engraving to be seen — moving forward we’re directing this and other contractors to permanently modify these cases such that their purpose is clear and not misleading at all."
Okay. That is somewhat reassuring, maybe, while at the same time raising a whole host of new questions. Like, why can’t the MTA find a storage device that’s not specifically designed to carry assault rifles? And how much money are we giving these gun case makers anyway? Alternatively, if this thing is so secure, why don't we make the whole subway out of the black box material?
The MTA did not immediately respond to this line of inquiry. As for Margaret, she's not exactly satisfied by the MTA's explanation, though she's at least glad to know someone looked into her concerns.
"It’s really irresponsible to put something like that on the platform, everyone is on high alert these days," she said. "But, I’m happy to know the hotline actually connects you to people who really care and want to help. I do wish they would get back in touch to follow up afterwards though."