On Gun Regulations, Let the People's Elected Representatives Decide | Opinion

Kyle Rittenhouse's recent acquittal portends a dire future: one in which anyone can bring a loaded weapon anywhere, and where daily encounters can turn into deadly shootouts within seconds. Luckily, states are free to regulate the concealed carry of weapons, while balancing the rights granted by the Second Amendment. But right now, the Supreme Court is considering a case that could have sweeping implications for the safety of my constituents and many other Americans. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, the Court must grapple with the very real tensions between public safety and constitutional rights.

In the largely Black district I represent as a member of the New York state senate, both have historically been in short supply. Our community is over-policed and under-protected. Every day, I speak with families who have lost children to gun violence, and with incarcerated people pleading to correct injustices in the legal system. I hear from seniors who demand action to stem the tide of shootings, and from young people who explain why they feel forced to carry a weapon.

My community isn't a monolith. So when I hear some—like Justice Samuel Alito—raise subway crime and systemic racism as justifications for overturning New York's concealed-carry permit law, my spidey sense tingles a bit. To these newly minted defenders of the oppressed I say: come visit me in Crown Heights. Until then, keep our names out of your mouth.

This year I wrote New York's groundbreaking gun safety law, which holds irresponsible gun companies accountable for reckless actions in the marketplace. I also wrote a law declaring gun violence a public health crisis, unlocking millions of dollars for community-based intervention programs working on the ground to prevent bloodshed before it starts. It is precisely because of my role and experience in this community that I understand gun violence demands holistic, multi-pronged solutions—stronger and better-targeted enforcement, yes, but also greater vigilance and community investment.

Gun control rally U.S. Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Supporters of gun control hold signs in front of supporters of gun rights during a demonstration by victims of gun violence in front of the Supreme Court as arguments begin in a major case on gun rights on November 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. The court is hearing a case on a New York law that imposes limits on the carrying of guns outside the home. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is poised to discard this nuance entirely with a ruling that could violently redefine our relationship with guns. No objective data supports the assertion that more guns make us safer, and most studies point to the opposite conclusion. A city of armed civilians, unrestricted by regulation and emboldened by the Rittenhouse verdict sanctioning the loosest definition of "self-defense" as justification to kill, would be a profoundly unsafe place—not least of all for Black and Brown people, who are most vulnerable to abuse in our system. Allowing unfettered concealed carry licenses would be disastrous for communities like mine, which are already suffering from the proliferation of illegal guns.

It's true that the history of gun regulation, like our nation's history more generally, is tinged with racism. Indeed, many aspects of our legal system were designed with the singular purpose of preventing non-white Americans from enjoying equal protection under the law. Individuals far smarter than me have argued that the Court should consider Bruen an Equal Protection Clause case, not just a Second Amendment one. As a lawyer I agree with that analysis, but I will leave it to others to expound on it.

As an elected legislator, I work to rectify injustices in our society by reshaping and redesigning systems that uphold our rights and ensure equality under the law. My colleagues and I have passed laws to expand voting rights and protections for tenants, direct billions to underserved public schools and minority- and women-owned businesses and protect reproductive freedom.

To overturn New York's law would be to deny the tensions between protecting public safety and respecting individual, constitutional rights. As a lifelong resident of this community I see these tensions clearly. As an elected official it's my job to resolve them. The task of striking the balance should be left to the people of this great state—through their democratically elected state representatives—and not a Supreme Court that can wax poetic about rampant gun violence in forests or on the subway but never has to answer to a rural or urban New Yorker who frequents both.

Many gun regulations, like so much else in our legal system, do have a racist and anti-immigrant origin story and are frequently applied unequally to people of color. But my state's concealed-carry permit law comports with a long, if imperfect, history and tradition of regulating guns in public spaces. Conservative justices have long held these traditions sacrosanct when interpreting the Second Amendment. It remains to be seen whether this fealty to history comes from a genuinely held belief, or is simply a convenient means to an end. Regardless of how the Court rules, my colleagues and I stand ready to continue legislating in the best interest of the communities we represent. As one of the people closest to this problem, I believe elected officials like me should be closest to crafting the solution.

Zellnor Myrie is a member of the New York State Senate.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.