On October 20, U.S. District Judge John Sinatra issued a temporary restraining order against the state of New York, blocking a law that prohibits people from carrying guns in houses of worship.
The law in question, the “Concealed Carry Improvement Act,” criminalizes possession of a firearm in “any place of worship or religious observation,” as well as in libraries, public parks, hospitals, and on any property controlled by the federal, state, or local government.
Sinatra, nominated by former President Donald Trump in 2018, said that New York’s law, which went into effect September 1, was “even more restrictive” than that struck down this summer by the Supreme Court in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.
The state, according to Sinatra, did not demonstrate that the law followed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Constitution protects Americans’ right to carry guns outside their homes. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.”
Thomas added that “the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a hand-gun for self-defense outside the home.”
The decision in the case did not sit well with President Joe Biden, who claimed, “The ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution and should deeply trouble us all. … Lives are on the line.”
Lives were on the line in December 2019 when a gunman opened fire during a service in the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman, Keith Kinnunen, murdered two members of the church and would likely have killed more had it not been for 71-year-old Jack Wilson and his ability to pack heat.
The mayhem lasted only six seconds because Wilson was able to quickly put Kinnunen down with a well-placed shot to the head.
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In 2017, a man wearing a ski mask gunned down a woman in the parking lot outside Nashville’s Burnette Chapel Church of Christ. He then entered the church and began shooting, wounding six people. Amid the chaos, an injured usher, Robert Engle, retrieved a gun from his vehicle, reentered the church, and restored order.
Sinatra wrote that the “nation’s history does not countenance such an incursion into the right to keep and bear arms across all places of worship across the state. … The right to self-defense is no less important and no less recognized at these places.”
New York’s law “creates a vulnerable population of attendees at places of worship left to the whims of potential armed wrongdoers who are uninterested in following the law in any event,” wrote Sinatra.
In places of worship where parishioners are especially vulnerable, criminals have often gone unchecked.
Earlier this year, David Chou walked into Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, where he allegedly shot several unarmed parishioners, killing one.
In June, a man walked into St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church outside Birmingham, Alabama. Although ultimately detained, he was first able to murder three senior citizens.
Pastor Jimmie Hardaway Jr. of Trinity Baptist Church in Niagara Falls was one of the two black pastors who brought the lawsuit against New York on October 13, along with the Firearms Policy Coalition of Las Vegas and the Second Amendment Foundation, of Bellevue, Washington.
Hardaway cited Dylann Roof’s 2015 murders of nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina as cause for carrying a gun to defend his church. “I would intend to keep carrying for self-defense and to keep the peace at Trinity Baptist Church,” he said.
Sinatra will hear further arguments in the case on November 3.
Another lawsuit was filed on October 4 by 25 churches and the nonprofit New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, claiming the plaintiffs’ Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights were being violated.